TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Boston at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

A few Flyers fans disagreed when I brought this up on Twitter, but I still feel like Paul Holmgren could’ve driven a harder bargain with Steve Mason. Really, what leverage did Mason have in his situation? Before signing that three-year, $12.3 million extension, he was a 25-year-old pending restricted free agent with a career .906 save percentage. Yeah, he played great earlier this season. He may have been the Flyers’ MVP actually. But you’ll remember he also played pretty well in his rookie season with Columbus. Goalies get hot sometimes. They also get cold. In eight January games, Mason’s save percentage is a troublesome .885. And that was after 11 December appearances when it was .899.

Saturday: Pittsburgh at Dallas (8 p.m. ET)

When Kris Letang fired home Sidney Crosby’s pass Thursday against the beleaguered Islanders, all I could think was, how in the world did Boston hold these guys to two goals in four games?

(The answer, of course, is “layers.”)

Saturday: Anaheim at Los Angeles (9:30 p.m. ET)

Outdoors at Dodger Stadium, where the temperature at puck drop should be in the mid-60s. So no, for God’s sake, the ice isn’t going to be melting under the players’ skates. “It’s not that big a deal,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “The temperature is the very same as the building temperature. When you come in the building, it’s 65 and above. It actually might be cooler.” That said, it’s been hotter in L.A. than the NHL expected, so the ice surface may not be perfect, even after the sun goes down and the temperature begins to fall.

Saturday: Minnesota at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

I don’t think anyone was shocked that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau signed contract extensions with the Sharks, but it sure did shed some light on the lack of quality pending unrestricted free agents. Which is to say, Paul Stastny is in a pretty good bargaining position with the Avs, who I figure may have to choose between him and Ryan O’Reilly. Other than Stastny, it’s slim pickings for pending UFA centers. Mikhail Grabovski, Dave Bolland, and David Legwand aren’t bad players, but they’re more in the complementary department. (If they even reach free agency.)

Sunday: NY Rangers at New Jersey (12:30 p.m. ET)

Outdoors at Yankee Stadium, where melting ice probably won’t be a problem. Another thing that hasn’t been a problem lately is Henrik Lundqvist, who boasts a .936 save percentage in January. In December, that number was .888, which caused great concern considering the big extension he’d just signed. King Henrik’s improved play is also good news for Sweden heading into the Olympics, where it could be argued they’ll be the second-deepest team after Canada.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.