PHT Morning Skate: Two top scoring duos collide in Ducks vs. Stars

Now that the playoffs are underway, the morning skate will focus on previewing each night’s playoff matches. The 2014 postseason is set to begin and there are so many teams with a legitimate shot of emerging as the Stanley Cup champions.

In his exit speech, former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, said that the first round is the scariest and hardest for NHL teams. So let’s take a look at what these guys fear:

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $750 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $250. Starts Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Game 1: Tampa Bay Lightning host Montreal Canadiens (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The big difference between the 2013 Lightning and this season’s squad is goaltender Ben Bishop. He has emerged as one of the league’s best netminders and helped keep the team afloat during Steve Stamkos’ absence with a broken leg and as the team adjusted when former captain Martin St. Louis demanded and received a trade.

So the fact that Bishop won’t be available for Game 1 has to be a major concern for the squad. His replacement, Anders Lindback, wasn’t nearly as good in the regular season, although he did finish the campaign on a high note.

Meanwhile, Montreal is going into this as Canada’s sole representative.

The Canadiens finished second in the Eastern Conference standings last season, but fell apart in the first round, so they’ll be eager to put that behind them. That’s especially true for goaltender Carey Price, who had a particularly troubling showing in the 2013 playoffs and has a career 2.90 GAA in 30 postseason games.

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins host Columbus Blue Jackets (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The Blue Jackets are going into this series as the prototypical little guys. Coming out of this with their first playoff win as a franchise would be seen as a big step forward.

Although Columbus will certainly try to do far more than that, it’s fair to say expectations are much higher in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, at least on paper, have enough star power to be a dynasty. Early on in the Evgeni Malkin/Sidney Crosby-era they were on that course with back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and a championship just four seasons into Crosby’s career.

However, injuries and playoff collapses have derailed the Penguins and they haven’t appeared in a Stanley Cup Final game since.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been at the heart of Pittsburgh’s shortcomings as he has significantly underperformed in recent playoff runs. It got to the point where Tomas Vokoun took the starting job from him during the 2013 postseason. He was solid in the regular season, but that hasn’t always translated to playoff success in the past.

Game 1: Anaheim Ducks host Dallas Stars (10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Teemu Selanne’s last playoff run will start tonight.

The 43-year-old future Hall of Famer saw his role with the Ducks significantly reduced in 2013-14, but perhaps he will be asked to do more now that the real season is beginning. It’s worth noting that Selanne was the 2014 Winter Olympics MVP, so he has shown that he can still be leaned upon when circumstances call for it.

Either way, this series will feature two of the most explosive offensive duos in the league. On the Ducks side there’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who finished second and fifth in the league’s scoring race respectively. The Stars will counter with 22-year-old Tyler Seguin and 24-year-old Jamie Benn, who ranked fourth and 10th in the points leaderboard.

They are the only two teams that featured two players in the top-10, so the fact that they’re playing against each other should make things fun.

Anaheim is heavily favored to win this series, but they also had the second seed in 2013 and still lost in the first round, so they still have a lot to prove. It doesn’t help that starting goaltender Jonas Hiller has lost his confidence and might not even play tonight.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?