Playoffs Today: Penguins, Islanders look for series edge

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We got back-to-back doubleheaders today, starting with two afternoon games on NBC before the action moves to NBCSN in the evening.

All of the games can be watched on NBC Sports Live Extra in addition to the channels mentioned below.

Game 3: New York Islanders host Pittsburgh Penguins (12:00 p.m. ET, NBC)
Series tied at 1-1

Sidney Crosby made his return in Game 2 on Friday and led the Penguins to a 3-1 lead through 20 minutes. Pittsburgh had already taken Game 1 by a score of 5-0, so it looked like they might be too much for the eighth seed Islanders. Instead the Islanders scored three unanswered goals in the last two periods to even the series.

“For us being in the playoffs and losing the 1st game the way we did, this game was a little bit of a statement game,” Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said.

But can the New York Islanders build off of that victory? They were just 10-11-3 at home this season, including two losses against Pittsburgh. At the same time, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma doesn’t want to underestimate the boost the Islanders will get in Nassau Coliseum during the playoffs.

“Our players have not seen this building like the way it’s going to be tomorrow,” Bylsma said in a Newsday report. “It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be a pretty crazy building.”

Brian Engblom will join play-by-play commentator Dave Strader.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild host Chicago Blackhawks (3:00 p.m. ET, NBC)
Blackhawks lead series 2-0

Going into this season, we saw three of the last four Presidents’ Trophy winners get booted from the playoffs in the first round. So far the Chicago Blackhawks have managed to defy that trend.

They were dominant from start to finish in the regular season, winning frequently in both blowouts and one-goal contests. That ability to compete in all situations should serve them well in the postseason and it certainly has so far.

All the same, Wild coach Mike Yeo isn’t giving up hope.

“Because we’re down 2-0, it doesn’t mean this series is over,” Yeo said. “I’ve been a part of series where we’ve come back from being down 2-0 and I know there’s other people on our team who have as well.”

Analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will be on hand for NBC, as will play-by-play commentator Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick.

Game 3: Ottawa Senators host Montreal Canadiens (7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Series tied at 1-1

This series has been emotional on and off the ice, from controversial hits to verbal brawling.

Both teams have taken a game, which means the Montreal Canadiens will need to win at least one game in Ottawa in order to advance past the first round.

Montreal has a fantastic 15-7-2 road record while the Senators might have some trouble keeping the Habs’ faithful out of Scotiabank Place.

Randy Hahn will be the play-by-play guy for NBCSN’s doubleheader and he’ll be joined by Brodie Brazil, Bret Hedican, and Drew Remenda.

Game 3: San Jose Sharks host Vancouver Canucks (10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Sharks lead series 2-0

The Sharks took Game 2 in dramatic fashion with Patrick Marleau netting the tying goal with just 56 sec remaining in regulation time. Raffi Torres then completed the comeback at 5:31 of the overtime period.

“We’re a bunch of veterans,” Sharks’ captain Joe Thornton said. “All of us have played in so many playoff games, the calmness is scary sometimes.”

Thornton has never won the Stanley Cup before and he’s running out of chances, but the same can be said for Vancouver’s Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

The Canucks have the same veteran presence as the Sharks, both have been dominant forces in the regular season for years, and neither franchise has ever won the Stanley Cup. Neither team wants to see another year end in failure as their core players gradually head towards the decline of their careers.

Oilers put Pouliot on waivers for buyout purposes

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Benoit Pouliot‘s time in Edmonton has come to an end.

The 30-year-old forward has been placed on unconditional waivers for the purposes of being bought out.

A buyout will mean a $1.33 million cap hit the next four seasons, as opposed to a $4 million cap hit the next two years if Pouliot remained on the roster.

The Oilers could use the cap space, what with Connor McDavid on the verge of signing a massive extension that will start in 2018-19, and Leon Draisaitl requiring an extension for next season.

Pouliot had just eight goals and six assists in 67 games last season.

Agent: Numerous Stanley Cup contenders have called on Kunitz

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Chris Kunitz is in demand.

That’s the word from agent Ben Hankinson, who this week told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his 37-year-old client is garnering major interest from a number of teams — and certain kinds of teams, to be clear.

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Hankinson, who represents Kunitz, said he’s fielded calls from as many as 10 teams with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Penguins next season, all interested in signing Kunitz.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Hankinson said. “Chris does have interest from a lot of teams. Who knows exactly where that interest is going to be once the offers start flying around, but he does have a lot of interest.”

Kunitz, who turns 38 in September, has been told by GM Jim Rutherford to explore free agency (to be fair, Rutherford told all his UFAs this). It’s going to be really interesting what that means for Kunitz, who could bring plenty to a team looking to make a postseason run.

For starters, there’s his experience. Few active NHLers have played — and won — in the playoffs as much as Kunitz. He’s got 161 games on his resume with four Stanley Cups, and was a key contributor for Pittsburgh this past spring.

In 20 games, Kunitz racked up 11 points while averaging 14:52 TOI per night. His nine assists put him tied for fourth on the team, and he famously scored the double-OT winner against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Given the lack of options in this year’s free agent class, Kunitz could score a pretty decent contract. That’s important, as it might be his last. The cagey veteran spoke at the Stanley Cup Final about how this could very well be his last kick at the can with Pittsburgh, and acknowledged that — given how limited opportunities are to win in the NHL — he needed to capitalize on every single one.

“We’ve been together for so long,” Kunitz said. “Our families are close, the kids are getting older and you realize that we’ve been really fortunate to have this great group of guys that have stuck together for so long. It’s rare to have guys stay for that long.

“So you just want to capitalize and make the most of it. [We’ve] all gone out for dinner together before the trade deadline, never knowing where your hockey career’s going to go. It’s something you put into your mind, but you’ve got to go out there and achieve your success every time you can.”

Report: Kovalchuk talking extension with KHL club

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Last week, Devils GM Ray Shero was of the belief that Ilya Kovalchuk was still planning to play in the NHL next season.

Today, however, a Russian media outlet is reporting that Kovalchuk is talking with his KHL club, SKA Saint Petersburg, about a possible extension.

If accurate, that would mesh with an earlier report — the one that Shero ostensibly shot down — that Kovalchuk had decided to keep playing in Russia.

The NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics may be weighing on Kovalchuk. If he returns to North America, he won’t be able to represent his country in South Korea — a fact that was cemented last week when the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule.

Of course, all this could just be SKA Saint Petersburg making a last-ditch attempt to keep Kovalchuk.

“We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said club president Gennady Timchenko (translated, per Sportsnet). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”

Kovalchuk can’t sign an NHL contract until July 1.

Sens’ Stalberg drawing interest from Swiss League

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Viktor Stalberg, the veteran forward that was part of Ottawa’s recent playoff run, has reportedly landed on the radar of National League A outfit EV Zug.

Per Swiss Hockey News, club manager Reto Klay confirmed interest in Stalberg, saying he is “among the candidates” to be signed by the team this summer.

Stalberg, 31, split last season between the ‘Canes and Sens, combining to score 11 goals and 16 points in 57 games. He’s previously spent time with the Rangers, Predators, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs, recording a career-high 22 goals and 43 points with Chicago in ’11-12.

He was also part of the ‘Hawks team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2013.

Stalberg has played each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, and it’ll be interesting to see if he lands another one — or, potentially, try and secure a longer-term deal overseas.