Columbus Blue Jackets v Philadelphia Flyers

TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend

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

Yes, the Flyers have been shut out two games in a row. No, there isn’t any real reason to panic. Against Columbus on Thursday, they still managed 37 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky. And that’s quite a few.

Sure, you could argue they didn’t get enough “quality” shots, but these were a couple of decent chances I’d say:

Bobrovsky is a good goalie. Won the Vezina last season. Sometimes a goalie like that is going to beat you. It’s not like earlier in the season when the Flyers were finishing games with shot totals in the low 20s, or even lower in some cases.

“Even though we didn’t score, we did a lot of good things,” captain Claude Giroux said.

Saturday: Detroit at Montreal (7 p.m. ET)

The rise of Gustav Nyquist really makes me wonder about all the players who were rushed into the NHL before they were ready. How many had their careers ruined by impatience? It’s impossible to say. Just as it’s impossible to say that Nyquist wouldn’t have developed into the player he appears to be today if the Red Wings had brought him along quicker.

All I know is this: Nyquist is 24 years old. He was drafted in 2008, the same year as players like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson. Think of all the stuff those four have already been through in the NHL, both good and bad.

Just over a year ago, Mike Babcock was saying this about Nyquist: “He’s got some skill, he’s obviously a real good player. He’s led everywhere he’s ever played in scoring. The problem with the NHL is you have to come up and grab hold of something.”

Saturday: Dallas at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Is Victor Hedman the most under-discussed player in the NHL? I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but the 23-year-old has 49 points this season. Only seven d-men in the entire NHL have more, and only three — Karlsson, Duncan Keith, and Alex Pietrangelo — have more even-strength points (31).

Suffice to say, Hedman’s no longer just that stay-at-home Swedish defenseman who got drafted after John Tavares went first overall in 2009.

“His confidence is through the roof, you can totally tell,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop told the Hockey News recently. “It’s just one of those things where defensemen take a bit longer. He’s playing tremendous and has been a big reason why we’ve done so well lately.”

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

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Interesting quote from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on back-up goalie Brian Elliott: “I’ve been around Brian for three years. This is the best I’ve ever seen him play. He’s playing terrific.” Elliott is 18-5-2 with a .922 save percentage, and as Hitch alluded to, the 28-year-0ld has been practically unbeatable since the Olympic break. Of course, everyone knows Ryan Miller is going to be the man for the Blues in the playoffs, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that Elliott, like Miller, is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Sunday: Pittsburgh at Colorado (8 p.m. ET)

Two teams I’m really curious to see in the playoffs, albeit for different reasons. The Avalanche, because teams whose records defy the statistics are always interesting. The Penguins, because they’ve got so much to prove. If Pittsburgh falls anywhere short of the Stanley Cup Final, you seriously have to wonder about the future of coach Dan Bylsma. For me, it all depends how the Pens lose, if they do. A hard-fought loss to the Bruins in the conference final, for example, wouldn’t be a huge deal. But go out like they did last year to Boston, or the year before to Philadelphia, and I think we could see some significant changes.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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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

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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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.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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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.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

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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.