PHT Morning Skate: Four Game 1s start it up tonight

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Last night saw three series get things going on the opening night of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, each with wild levels of action and plenty of offense to go around.

Tonight, four more playoff series get under way in New York, St. Louis, Colorado, and San Jose. If you thought last night was a fun ride, wait til you get a load of this.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Thursday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Thursday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 1: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)

These two teams split the season series against each other with each team winning twice. The difference between them as this series kicks off is a bit stark as Philly’s Steve Mason will miss Game 1 after suffering an injury in the final game of the season.

Going up against Henrik Lundqvist makes the night a bit tougher for the Flyers and their potent offense, but if last night is an indication of how the first round of the playoffs might go, coming out firing might be in Claude Giroux’s best interest. Giroux’s MVP-like effort this season keyed the Flyers into getting into the postseason and guys like Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek have followed suit.

How Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis respond will be important and with Ray Emery in goal for the Flyers to start the series off, time is ripe for the Rangers to get off to a good start.

Game 1: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

All season long the Blues were the runaway favorites to win the West. Then the last few weeks happened where numerous key players got hurt and Ryan Miller struggled stopping the puck. Now, everyone can’t help but pick against the Blues to lose out to their arch-rivals, the Blackhawks.

The Blues will get everyone back to start the series, but so will the ‘Hawks who made do without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the final few weeks. The Blues swear up and down that things will be fine now that the playoffs have started, but it’s a lot easier to say these things when you don’t have Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp coming at you.

It’s never easy in the playoffs, but the Blues have a handful to deal with this time.

Game 1: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

If there’s a series in the West that’s not getting a lot of notice in these playoffs, it’s this one and that’s a shame. Avs-Wild may not have the high-flying offense of the Ducks-Stars series or the rivalry qualities of either Blues-‘Hawks or Sharks-Kings, but that doesn’t mean there’s no heat here.

While things have changed a lot since they last met in the postseason in 2003, the Avalanche play the high-flying kind of hockey that’s found ways to frustrate teams. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon takes injured star Matt Duchene’s spot on the top line and Colorado has some aches on the blue line to manage. That gives the Wild openings to attack them with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville leading the way.

If Ilya Bryzgalov stays hot into the postseason, he could provide a good counterpart to Semyon Varlamov in the Avs net. This could be a lot of fun.

Game 1: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) 

What’s definitely going to be fun is this series. The Sharks and Kings are no strangers to each other in the playoffs by now and each of the past two times they’ve faced off it’s been outstanding hockey.

When you’ve got Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton on one side up against Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown on the other you’re in for some fun. What’s worth watching is how Marian Gaborik adds to the Kings attack and what Tomas Hertl can do for the Sharks after missing a good part of the season.

One thing the Sharks are hoping they can do is rattle Jonathan Quick in goal. Quick was a big reason why the Kings knocked off the Sharks in the playoffs last season, but San Jose will need Antti Niemi to be his equal if they’re going to move on. Staying up late on the East Coast is worth it for this series.

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?