Nashville Predators v Colorado Avalanche

Can Pekka Rinne save the Preds’ season?

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The Nashville Predators only have 21 games to leapfrog four teams and claim the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. According to Sports Club Stats, their chances of making the playoffs are a paltry 2.3 percent.

It sounds dire, and make no mistake, their chances aren’t good. However, it’s important to note that Sports Club Stats doesn’t take injuries into account. Important, because goalie Pekka Rinne will finally be back in net starting Tuesday versus Pittsburgh.

Unlike years in the past when Rinne was healthy, goaltending has been a big weakness for Nashville this season. The team’s save percentage is just .899, tied with Edmonton for 26th in the NHL. To nobody’s surprise, the likes of Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec, and Devan Dubnyk haven’t been able to provide the kind of netminding that earned Rinne a $49 million contract.

Now, there’s no telling how Rinne will perform for the rest of the season. It’s been a while since he last played (Oct. 22), and it may take time, which the team doesn’t really have, to get into a groove.

Still, there are reasons to believe the Preds are better than their current place in the standings — four points out of a playoff spot — indicates.

First off, the shootout has really cost them (1-7), and we all know a team’s shootout record isn’t all that reflective of its overall quality. If the Preds were merely .500 in the “gimmick,” they’d only be one point back of a playoff spot. (Rinne is also a very good shootout goalie, which bodes well down the stretch.)

The Preds have also been playing better possession hockey lately. Per Extra Skater, they’ve had a positive Fenwick (close) in their last seven games.

On Saturday, Nashville outshot the Jets, 40-20, only to lose, 3-1.

“There’s going to be games where you feel like you get your heart ripped out of your chest and you just have to forget about what happened,” coach Barry Trotz said after the Winnipeg loss. “We played a really good hockey game, but we didn’t win it.”

Oftentimes when a team is out-possessing its opponent and still losing, it’s because its goaltending is letting it down.

Again, the Preds are long shots. But if there’s one player that gives Nashville a chance, it may be Rinne.

Related: On Legwand, Nashville and shades of Suter

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Friday night. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

St. Louis at Dallas (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 1 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

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

The TV broadcast of Game 1 will also be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some related reading material you may enjoy:

Game 7 win over Ducks is ‘a huge step’ for Predators 

Sharks do what they couldn’t in 2014 and that’s close out Kings

Stars expect Seguin to miss at least first two games of the series

Blues best Blackhawks in epic Game 7

Report: NHL, NHLPA agree on expansion draft rules

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman answers a question during a news conference before the NHL All-Star hockey game skills competition, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Associated Press
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The NHL and NHLPA have agreed on the framework for a potential expansion draft, according to TSN’s Gary Lawless.

Last month, we found out what each team will be able to protect if ever the NHL adds expansion franchises. Bill Daly made it clear that each existing team would only lose one player per expansion team coming into the league. More specifically, teams would be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie or eight skaters (any position).

Although this agreement between the league and PA doesn’t guarantee expansion will happen, it does ensure that one major step is out of the way if ever the league decided to add a team or two.

The agreement between the two sides also includes an expansion scenario for players with no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts.

Here’s an excerpt from Lawless’ story:

The NHL has hundreds of steps to go through before expansion can potentially become a reality and getting an agreement with the NHLPA was viewed as near top of the list. The executive committee would not have recommended expansion to the NHL’s board of governors for the purpose of a vote without an agreement in place with the NHLPA, and in particular, a resolution on how existing no-trade and no-move clauses will be handled.

Las Vegas and Quebec City have been mentioned as two potential destinations for  expansion franchises in the near future. As Lawless mentions in his story, NHL general managers were told to expect a decision on expansion for 2017-18 by the NHL Entry Draft in June.

Related:

NHL insists ‘no final decisions’ have been made on expansion.

Daly: Teams can only lose one player per expansion team

‘Roster chaos’: Let’s ponder some possible expansion draft scenarios

PHT Morning Skate: Nick Foligno pulled off an awesome prank on Cam Atkinson

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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.

John Tavares and Steven Stamkos once played on the same youth team. That team went 49-0-1. (Newsday)

–Which team deserves to win the NHL Draft lottery? (Winnipeg Sun)

–Rick DiPietro wasn’t happy about something Mike Francesca said. (BarDown)

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

Nick Foligno pretended to be a season ticket holder and pranked Cam Atkinson. Funny stuff.

–Prior to Game 1 between the Penguins and Capitals, T.J. Oshie‘s daughter was filmed kicking a Penguins poster. Maybe she should do it more often because her father scored a hat trick just a few hours later. (Instagram)

–Brett Hull says “goals don’t matter” when you play for Ken Hitchcock. (Sportsnet)

Oshie’s hat trick lets Caps just barely squeak by Penguins in OT

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What a start.

This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.

This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.

What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:

This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.

There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.

Twice:

If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.

NOTES:

Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.

— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.

— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.

— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.

— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.