Tomas Vokun, Tyler Seguin

Playoffs tonight: Let the Conference finals begin


After a couple of days without any hockey, we can all rest easy now as both the Eastern and Western Conference finals begin today. Let the fun begin.

Game 1: Chicago Blackhawks host Los Angeles Kings (5 p.m. ET NBCSN/Live Extra)

Both teams had to sweat things out in a seven-game series in the previous round and now they’re ready to do it up in a conference finals match-up that sees a curious balance of power.

Last year’s Stanley Cup champions against this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners. A tough, physical team with a red-hot Conn Smythe candidate goalie (Jonathan Quick) against a team oozing with offensive talent with a tricky defense to go with it. If there’s a place to look for how things will go, take a look at special teams.

Chicago will look to keep their game rolling as they were able to get their power play working against Detroit all while their penalty kill continued to be dominant (97.6% of penalties killed this postseason). The Kings, meanwhile, have a solid power play of their own (scoring on 20% of their opportunities). Provided the officials don’t put their whistles away, this could be a storyline to watch.

L.A. hasn’t been all that hot on the road in these playoffs. Of the six road games they’ve played in this postseason, they’ve only won one of them (Game 5 against St. Louis). After being road warriors last season losing just once away from Staples Center, things have evened out in a big way. Chicago will look to make sure they stay dreary on foreign ice tonight.

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins host Boston Bruins (8 p.m. ET NBC/Live Extra)

It’s the series you almost knew had to happen after how things played out during the trade deadline. Both teams pursued the same players (Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla) and both chose to go to Pittsburgh. The Bruins countered by grabbing former Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr and now Jagr gets to try and help eliminate his former team for the second year in a row.

While those players will be contributors, all eyes are on the biggest players and how they’ll match up against each other. Sidney Crosby figures to see a lot of Patrice Bergeron while Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will have Zdeno Chara and his shadow stalking them around the ice.

If both teams come into tonight’s game feeling rusty, you can’t really blame them as they’ve had about a week to prepare for the start of this series. A big question here will be how the Bruins try to get Tomas Vokoun off his game. You have to think Milan Lucic will be a big factor here in crashing the net to try and make things uncomfortable.

Goalie nods: Niemi expected for Stars against Penguins

Antti Niemi, Jonathan Toews
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Talk about getting thrown into the fire.

Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.

Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.

Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.

We’ll start to find out tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.


Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.

Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.

Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.

Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.

Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Flyers want to prove doubters wrong

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
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Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.

“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly. 

So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.

That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”

The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.

“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”

That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.

Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen