Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets’ win sets Eastern Conference first-round matchups


While home-ice advantage between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens needs to be determined (this post will be updated accordingly), we know all four first-round matchups for the Eastern Conference in the 2014 playoffs.

Here they are, with a quick note or two (home-ice listed first, if already determined).

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Bruins won the 2014 Presidents’ Trophy, yet the Red Wings could present serious competition, and not just because of their name recognition. Detroit took three of the two teams’ four games in the season series and overcame serious injury issues to get this far. They also tend to satisfy fans of “fancy stats” with their competitive possession numbers.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

With the Blue Jackets victorious on Saturday, they clinch this series. The NHL had to hope something like this would happen, as the Penguins present at least the potential for a solid regional rivalry with the Blue Jackets (relatively speaking). Of course, the Penguins’ three Stanley Cups tower over the Blue Jackets franchise’s zero playoff wins, but all that matters is who wins the best-of-seven series …

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Seeding to be determined, as the Montreal Canadiens’ overtime win against the New York Rangers keeps seeding open here. The Lightning won three of the teams’ four games in the season series, for whatever that’s worth.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Will the New York Rangers’ recent dominance at Madison Square Garden tilt things in their favor? Who will prevail in a goalie match between the established (Henrik Lundqvist) and the openly questioned (Steve Mason)? Can Martin St. Louis get it together? There are almost endless storylines in this one.

Feel free to weigh in regarding the series you expect to be most exciting, the host teams most vulnerable to upsets and all sorts of other fun factors.

After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

Patrik Elias
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It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

“I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

“He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

So why the silence on the extension front?

Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

“There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

Obviously, money is a factor.

Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.

PHT Morning Skate: There’s a third Strome brother on the horizon

Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
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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.

Matthew Strome — the younger brother of the Isles’ Ryan and the Coyotes’ Dylan — is making waves as a 16-year-old rookie with OHL Hamilton. (NHL.com)

Vern Fiddler caught country legend George Straight’s hat at a concert this summer. He’s apparently received big money offers for the lid, but isn’t willing to sell. (Ottawa Sun)

Is Anders Nilsson the Oilers’ No. 1 goalie? (Edmonton Journal)

Good piece here on Max Pacioretty‘s captaincy in Montreal. (New York Times)

Some appreciation for gritty Leafs forward Leo Komarov. (Toronto Sun)

According to this piece, GM Marc Bergevin has been the Habs’ MVP this season. (Montreal Gazette)