Ben Bishop, Kyle Okposo

TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: San Jose at Tampa Bay (2 p.m. ET)

If I had a vote for the Vezina Trophy, and I had to vote right now, I’d vote for Ben Bishop. And I’d do it with very little hemming and/or hawing, because this guy has been unbelievable. After 34 starts, he’s 23-5-4 with a .938 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against average. Sure, I’d have to consider Josh Harding, Semyon Varlamov, Tuukka Rask and Carey Price. And if there was one little thing that might make me think twice, it would be total minutes played, since I think there’s a lot to be said for a goalie’s workload, and Bishop only ranks 11th in that category. But Bishop has been so good, and his play has been so important to his team with Steven Stamkos out, I just couldn’t pick anyone else.

Saturday: Montreal at Toronto (4 p.m. ET)

It’s Hockey Day In Canada this Saturday, with all seven Cup-less-since-1993 squads in action. I feel like we haven’t written much about the Habs this year, so here’s something to chew on: Montreal is one of those rare teams with a defenseman, PK Subban, as its leading scorer. There are two ways to look at this. On the bright side, it’s great to have a d-man with the ability to lead an NHL team in points. But on the other hand, it doesn’t say much about the forward corps, currently led by Tomas Plekanec and his 30 points in 48 games. I fully expect general manager Marc Bergevin to try and address this, perhaps not before the trade deadline, but in the offseason.

Saturday: Anaheim at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

I’m not sure there’s a team I’m more curious to see in the playoffs than Anaheim. Despite all the success the Ducks have had this regular season, I get the sense potential opponents (or at least the fans of those potential opponents) would rather face the Ducks than the Blackhawks, Blues, Kings, or Sharks. Maybe my senses are wrong there, but if they’re right, I think it has a lot to do with guys like Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano and Cam Fowler playing such big roles for Anaheim. Even though Fowler was highly touted going into the 2010 draft and will play for the United States at the Olympics, people may still look at Anaheim’s roster and think, “Look at these guys. We can beat these guys.” The Ducks haven’t been past the first round of the playoffs since 2009, which may also have something to do with it.

Sunday: Boston at Chicago (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. The first meeting between the ‘Hawks and Bruins since Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Neither club has been winning as much as it would like lately, but if I had to pick one that should be concerned, I’d pick the Bruins. The loss of Dennis Seidenberg for the season can’t be overlooked, and I think general manager Peter Chiarelli needs to address it before the trade deadline. Zdeno Chara will be 37 by the time the playoffs start. Everyone knows he’s in fantastic shape, but how many more runs at the Cup will the B’s have with him as a truly elite defender? Even Nicklas Lidstrom couldn’t play forever, and he sure didn’t play the same way as Chara.

Sunday: Washington at NY Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Caps fans may not like hearing this (or they may love hearing this, based on some of my previous predictions), but I think there’s a good chance Washington misses the playoffs this year. Here’s how the standings look today:

source:

Note the far-right column containing regulation/overtime wins. Now note how many more ROWs that teams below the Caps in the standings have in comparison. That says something. Washington also ranks in the bottom 10 of the NHL in possession stats, which, unlike a team’s record in the shootout, are strongly correlated with the overall quality of a team.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

Video: Brouwer was big for Blues

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Troy Brouwer made quite an impression in his first year with the St. Louis Blues. After being acquired from the Capitals for T.J. Oshie, the 30-year-old scored 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. His eight goals and 13 points during the playoffs weren’t too shabby either.

Brouwer took on more of a signficant role in the postseason. His points-per-game increased, his ice time increased and he was more productive on the man-advantage (3 goals in 20 games). While the Blues were fighting for their playoff lives in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Final, Brouwer contributed three goals.

Now, the Blues will have to find a way to keep him around. His playoff success likely means that he’ll be expecting a substantial raise between now and the end of the league year on July 1st. Brouwer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on that day.

Brouwer came with a cap hit of $3.66 million and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number climb higher, especially if he hits the open market.

The Blues also need to work out deals with other pending free agents like captain David Backes and Jaden Schwartz (RFA). There isn’t a ton of money left under the cap in St. Louis, which means that GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative this summer.

One of the things Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock liked about Brouwer was the way he seemed to fit in right away.

“He was on the team for a month,” Hitchcock explained earlier this week, per the Vancouver Sun. “I think my meetings were a little bit too long.  He told me it would be best if I kept them a little briefer.  So I knew he had a bite on the team right away. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable with us, which is great.”  

How much will comfort count for in the off-season negotiations between club and player? We’ll find out soon enough.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”