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The Morning Skate: Will Kings capitalize on no Keith?

A quick look at the Western Conference finals and notes from the amazing double-OT win by the Bruins last night.

Game 4: #1 Chicago Blackhawks at #5 Los Angeles Kings, 9 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Blackhawks lead series, 2-1

The Kings will look to knot the Western Conference Final at two games apiece and maintain their home-ice perfection this postseason (8-0) when they host the Blackhawks in Game 4 at Staples Center tonight.

The Blackhawks will be without 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who was suspended for Game 4 for high-sticking the Kings’ Jeff Carter in the face. Keith will miss his first-career postseason game. The replacement for the solid, two-way defenseman has not been determined, but it figures to be the defensive-oriented Sheldon Brookbank or the puck-moving rookie, Ryan Stanton. The loss will be felt for a team that only got 20 shots on goal – and a single goal (Bryan Bickell) – in their 3-1 loss in Game 3.

Jonathan Quick, who stopped 19 shots in the Kings’ in Game 3, has been spectacular at home this postseason. He has a 1.13 goals-against average, with a .957 save percentage (201-of-210) and three shutouts, even better than the marks he put up at Staples Center during his Conn Smythe Trophy postseason of a year ago: 1.34 GAA, .945 save% (206-of-218) and two shutouts.

Mike Richards skated with the extras on Wednesday, and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury (concussion). Carter will play after getting 20 stitches on the inside and outside of his mouth, a chipped tooth and a couple of cracked teeth in the meeting with Keith’s stick.

SUSPENSIONS, THIS POSTSEASON

Player Team Suspension Replacement(s) Result(s)
Andrew Ference Bruins ECQF, Gm 2 (check to head) Dougie Hamilton Lost G2
Eric Gryba Senators ECQF, Gms 2&3 (check to head) Andre Benoit Lost G2, won G3
Justin Abdelkader Red Wings WCQF, Gms 4&5 (charging) Mikael Samuelsson Won G4, lost G5
Raffi Torres Sharks entire WCSF (hit to the head) several players Lost series in 7
Duncan Keith Blackhawks WCF, Gm 4 (high sticking) TBD TBD

ECQF = Eastern Conference Quarterfinals                    WCQF/WCSF/WCF = Western Conference Quarterfinals/Semifinals/Final

WHO ON EARTH IS … MARCUS KRÜGER?

In his third NHL postseason, Marcus Krüger has two goals, but the fourth-line center’s true value has been recognized with key shifts on the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that has a league-leading 96.2% (51-for-53) success rate. In 15 games, Krüger has played a total of 50:21 with the man-disadvantage, the second-most in the league, behind only teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson.

This week, Krüger is of one of two regional cover athletes for the June 10 issue of Sports Illustrated. (Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is the other.)  The cover shows the Stockholm, Sweden native upending the Kings rookie Tyler Toffoli, one of his eight hits this postseason. Rather than concern himself with the “SI Cover Jinx,” though, the 22-year-old pivot should try to work on his faceoff skills. He is only 46-for-128 (35.9%) at the dot, worst among all skaters with at least 120 attempts, including 18-for-63 (28.6%) when the Hawks are short-handed. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal series vs. the Red Wings, he went zero-for-11, the worst “oh-fer” since the Red Wings’ Igor Larionov went zero-for-12 in 2000.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 2, Pittsburgh 1, 2OT – Bruins lead series, 3-0

Player Teams Points Games Cups
Wayne Gretzky Oilers/Kings/Blues/Rangers 382 208 4
Mark Messier Oilers/Rangers 295 236 6
Jari Kurri Oilers/Kings/Rangers/Ducks/Avalanche 233 233 5
Glenn Anderson Oilers/Leafs/Rangers/Blues 214 225 6
Paul Coffey Oilers/Penguins/Kings/Wings/Flyers/Canes 196 194 4
Jaromir Jagr Penguins/Capitals/Rangers/Flyers/Bruins 196 195 2

According to an ESPN report, Bruins fourth-line center Gregory Campbell suffered a broken right leg while blocking a Evgeni Malkin slapshot in the second period, and will miss the remainder of the season.

The Bruins can close out the series sweep in Boston on Friday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Penguins haven’t been swept in a best-of-seven series since 1979, when the Bruins eliminated them in the NHL quarterfinals. On the Pens’ roster was Colin Campbell, father of the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell.

LINKS

Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

Trade deadline players?

Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

That schedule, though

Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

Saturday: vs. Capitals
Sunday: vs. Oilers
Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
Thursday, March 9: at Kings
Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.

‘Hawks nab Jurco in trade with Red Wings

Tomas Jurco
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The Chicago Blackhawks picked up some forward depth today, adding winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

In return, the ‘Hawks sent the Wings a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Jurco has only appeared in 16 games this season. He has no goals and no assists.

The 24-year-old was forced to undergo back surgery this past offseason.

“I could still play with it but the worst for me was sitting on the bench all the time,” Jurco said in November, per NHL.com. “Sometimes I’d have to get up and walk. Sometimes I’d stretch it. It was bad and I’ve been sitting a lot for the last couple of years on the bench. It was really tough but I’m glad it’s gone and I’m excited for a fresh start.”

A pending restricted free agent, Jurco’s cap hit is just $900,000.

In a corresponding move, the ‘Hawks assigned rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza to the AHL.

Pre-game reading: On the urgency of the Caps, who won’t ‘be the same’ next year

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— Up top, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan talks about the upcoming trade deadline. The way his team has been playing, it’s no surprise to hear he doesn’t expect to be very busy.

— The Caps are in the second year of a two-year window, and the urgency to finally win a Stanley Cup couldn’t be higher. Says MacLellan: “That doesn’t mean that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got to give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be the same.” (NHL.com)

— The Montreal Canadiens, no longer a sure bet to make the playoffs, are one of the teams eyeing Arizona center Martin Hanzal, reports Pierre LeBrun. Hanzal is a pending unrestricted free agent. The 30-year-old has 15 goals and 10 assists in 50 games this season. (TSN)

— Hockey history buffs will enjoy this story on Billy Coutu, a.k.a “Wild Beaver,” who was banned by the NHL for life after attacking a couple of referees in 1927. Coutu tried to resurrect his career in the minors, but with little success. (Sports Illustrated)

— Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz stayed hot last night with a goal and an assist against the Coyotes. “I’m making more plays off the rush, in the zone,” he says. “I’m definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that’s how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well.” (CSN Chicago)

— Tomorrow’s outdoor game in Pittsburgh is a big one for the Flyers — but not because of the spectacle of the event. To stay in the playoff race, Philadelphia badly needs the two points. “Honestly, it’s business first,” says head coach Dave Hakstol. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.” (CSN Philly)

Enjoy the games!