A quick look ahead at some of the narratives at play this weekend…
Toronto and Detroit duke it out
There’s plenty to play for on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, when Toronto hosts Detroit in a huge game for Eastern Conference playoff implications.
The Wings and Leafs head into Friday’s action tied on points, with 80, though Detroit holds the final wild card spot thanks to more wins in regulation/overtime (28 to 27). Those standings could change, however — Toronto takes on Philly tonight with the opportunity to bounce back into a wild card spot.
Saturday’s game (7 p.m. ET) between these two Original Six foes will be their fourth and final meeting of the season and, if the last three matchups were any indication, it’ll be a tightly-contested affair. Detroit won the first game 5-4 in a shootout; Toronto won the second (the ’14 Winter Classic) 3-2 in a shootout; the third game was the only one not to go to extra time, but still ended in a narrow decision — 3-2, for the Wings.
Philly hosts Boston
The Flyers and Bruins will be seeing plenty of each other over the next week — they square off this Sunday at Wells Fargo (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), then again six days later at TD Garden.
Those will be the second and third meetings of the year between the Flyers and B’s. In the first game, Boston scored a decisive 6-1 victory on the strength of two-goal performances from both Jarome Iginla and Zdeno Chara; Philly goalie Steve Mason was hooked after allowing four goals on 19 shots.
What Philly will want to do is replicate its blueprint from the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign. Like this year, the Flyers lost their first of three matchups with the Bruins… but then rallied to defeat Boston in the second and third head-to-head battles of the season.
The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.
Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.
The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.
Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?
All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.
Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.
The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.
“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”
The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.
It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.
This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.
One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”
It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.
Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?
The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.
“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”
In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.
From the NHL:
Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.
Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.