PHT Morning Skate: Bruins-Red Wings finally drop the puck

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We’re three days into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and now we’ll finally have all eight series underway after tonight. It could wind up being a case of saving the best for last when it comes to Boston and Detroit, a pair of other series drop the puck for Game 2 in Tampa and Anaheim.

After last night’s action that saw a triple-overtime winner by St. Louis and a comeback overtime win by Colorado, the bar might be set a little high tonight. It’s the most wonderful time of year.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Friday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Friday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 2: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens [Montreal leads series 1-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The Lightning will look to bounce back after watching Dale Weise beat them in overtime of Game 1. If there’s someone they have to worry about though it’s Daniel Briere. While Briere isn’t the dynamic scorer he once was, his presence on the Habs’ fourth line made them a difference maker against the Lightning fourth line.

After all, asking young guys like Cedric Paquette to have to wrangle Briere is asking a lot for a bunch that doesn’t play much and may not have a lot of NHL experience. We’ll see how Tampa coach Jon Cooper makes adjustments tonight against Michel Therrien. One thing’s for sure, we’ll see Carey Price bounce back stronger which means Anders Lindback will need to counter equally to even up the series.

Game 1: Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

This may be the series most fans are most curious about. The Bruins are the top team in the league and are favorites against the Red Wings, but there’s always something about Detroit that gives everyone pause. Making the playoffs 23 seasons in a row will help add to that, but the Wings have the weapons to be a perilous first round opponent for the Bruins.

Pavel Datsyuk is healthy and playing well and having him join younger guys like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Tomas Jurco gives the Wings a lot of skill and speed. Detroit took three out of four this season from Boston, but the playoffs are a different animal and that means seeing more from Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and the best out of Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins will want to get physical, but the Wings resist and steer away from that type of play. If Boston is to roll through the East this season, they’re going to earn it against Detroit.

Game 2: Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars [Anaheim leads series 1-0] (10:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Ducks showed the Stars what playoff hockey was all about early in Game 1. After jumping out to a big early lead, it looked like they were ready to cruise, but the Stars found their legs late and gave them a scare before ultimately losing 4-3. Don’t expect the Stars to come in starstruck tonight.

The upside for Anaheim is they’ll likely have captain Ryan Getzlaf back in after he took a puck in the face late in Game 1. You may have seen what his face looked like after that from his brother on Twitter. That’s good news as they’ll need him to help keep Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin occupied and away from the Ducks net.

Expect the Stars to come out a bit tougher in Game 2 to help goalie Kari Lehtonen out. Leaving your goalie hung out to dry at the start of a playoff game isn’t something to be proud of and they’ll tighten things up to prevent it from happening again.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson