PHT Morning Skate: Blues, Avs, Ducks look to go up 3-0

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Four series head into Game 3 tonight and three of those see teams looking to take a 3-0 series lead.

The St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Anaheim Ducks all hit the road looking to put a stranglehold on their respective series but with the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, and Dallas Stars playing at home, they’ll have the opportunity to get back into the thick of things with wins of their own.

The night gets started in Columbus where the Blue Jackets host the Pittsburgh Penguins after earning a 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 2 to even up that series. Expect a raucous crowd at Nationwide Arena where there hasn’t been a playoff game played there in five years.

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

Game 3: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [series tied 1-1] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Blue Jackets’ Game 2 victory helped make this series look a bit more accurate in the standings when you consider how evenly played it’s been. Columbus has hung tough with the Penguins through both games and have made life miserable for Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Brandon Dubinsky’s work to pester them has paid off and Columbus’ role players have stayed strong.

Now the question is how the Penguins will respond to playing on the road after a tough loss. The playoffs can be about facing adversity and the Jackets are giving the Pens a fair amount of that. With Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson providing the offense, if nothing else, this series is providing a spotlight for both teams’ supporting casts.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche [Colorado leads series 2-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — NHL Network)

The Wild have their hands full in dealing with the Avalanche. After blowing a two-goal lead in Game 1, the Wild were thoroughly outplayed in Game 2 and they had no answers for how to contain the Avs’ top line. That has to change with the series now in St. Paul and it’s time for the Wild’s top line to get a piece of their own action.

While Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise have two assists through two games, they’re getting blown away by Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon who have seven points a piece. The Wild could also stand to see Ilya Bryzgalov play a lot better in goal as he has a .822 save percentage through two games.

Game 3: Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues [St. Louis leads series 2-0] (8:30 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The defending champs haven’t had to face this sort of adversity in the postseason in a while. In both games the Blues have tied the game with a late third period goal and gone on to win in overtime. The Blackhawks are close with the Blues, but St. Louis is finding ways to claw out victories.

Chicago will have to make do without Brent Seabrook for the next three games because of his hit on David Backes. Meanwhile, Backes’ status is still unknown for Game 3. The Blues have gotten support on all their lines as Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Porter, and Adam Cracknell have played key roles in scoring. Going without Backes will hurt, but for how they’ve played as a team, it’s (large) bump in the road.

The Blackhawks have to find better ways to resist the Blues onslaught when they get rolling. We’ve seen the ‘Hawks look like the usual band of world beaters at times, but the Blues ability to push back has been stronger. That has to change in Chicago if the ‘Hawks are going to get back in this series.

Game 3: Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks [Anaheim leads series 2-0] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

If there’s something the Stars can take pride in after dropping the first two games against the Ducks, it’s that they’ve gotten progressively better as the series has progressed. The timing of that could work great now that the series moves to Dallas. The Stars have lost two one-goal games and while Anaheim looked dominant in Game 1, the Stars made things a lot more interesting in Game 2.

It’s been a while since the Stars have hosted a playoff game (six years) and the fans there will be ready to go crazy to see Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin try to put one over on the Ducks.

The Stars will have to find ways to wrangle the Ducks’ top line, however, as they  have run rampant over Dallas through two games. Ryan Getzlaf leads the way with two goals and two assists and Matt Beleskey and Corey Perry each have a goal and an assist. If Dallas can’t find a way to slow them down, they could be in for more disappointment.

Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

Perhaps you see where this is going.

Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

“It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

Elsewhere…

— The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

— It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

— After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

— It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

— Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

— In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.

‘Hawks sign Kero to two-year extension

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Chicago has re-upped with winger Tanner Kero on a two-year deal, the club announced on Thursday.

Kero, 24, is in his second season with the ‘Hawks. He made his NHL debut in ’15-16 and has earned a more prominent role this year, scoring 12 points through 38 games.

Undrafted out of Michigan Tech, Kero parlayed a strong senior season — which included being a Hobey Baker finalist — into a contract with the ‘Hawks. He’s spent quite a bit of time in AHL Rockford, emerging as a quality goalscorer.

That said, Kero has developed a more well-rounded game with Chicago, and impressed head coach Joel Quenneville in the process.

“He’s reliable in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “He puts himself in the right spot, down low in his own end, underneath coverage, and seems to be useful in killing penalties as well. There’s more offense in his game that hopefully can come around and add to his reliability defensively.

“We feel he’s done a good job of being a guy in the middle you can use and we like what he’s brought to our team in a position where, [earlier in] the year, I don’t know if he was forecast to be a regular like that. But he’s become more and more reliable, or used more.”

Financial details of the new contract weren’t released. Kero is in the last of a two-year, $1.85 million deal with a $667,500 average annual cap hit.

 

Fehr: Players won’t negotiate with NHL over Olympics

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If the NHL was hoping the players would surrender something for the right to go to the Olympics in 2018, the NHL should think again, according to NHLPA chief Donald Fehr.

“Obviously the players are not about to engage in collective bargaining in return for getting an opportunity to go to the Olympics for which they aren’t being paid, where very valuable things would go elsewhere in return for that,” Fehr told ESPN today.

It was reported back in November that the NHL had offered to go to the Olympics, in return for the players accepting a CBA extension.

Not long after, it was reported that the NHLPA had rejected the league’s offer.

Looking ahead, the NHL may still be holding out for another party to offer some concessions — that party being the IOC.

“We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month, per FanSided. “We don’t get to use the rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say proud sponsor of the Olympics. They won’t let us do that…there’s no recognition of the value by the IOC and the IIHF that we bring to the Olympics.”

Read more: Bettman argues that Olympic participation hurts NHL product

Bettman’s latest Olympics update was not very positive.

“There are no negotiations ongoing,” he told Reuters earlier this week. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance. As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”

Ristolainen suspended three games for hit that concussed Guentzel

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Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been suspended three games for interfering with Pens forward Jake Guentzel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday.

Ristolainen was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct for the hit in Tuesday night’s tilt, which left Guentzel bloodied and, as we later learned, with a concussion.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the diagnosis in his postgame presser.

Ristolainen, 22, didn’t have any prior history with the DoPS, which has yet to release a video explanation for the punishment. It could be argued that Guentzel was in a prone position, and that Ristolainen took advantage of it.

“I thought it was bad,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said of the hit, per the Buffalo News. “The puck doesn’t get to him. He’s looking to get the puck to get into the play, and the guy holds up a second and then he still goes through him.”

As a result of today’s announcement, Ristolainen will now sit out Buffalo’s game on Saturday against Toronto, Mar. 27 against Florida and Mar. 28 against Columbus. He’ll be eligible to return on Sunday, Apr. 2, when the Sabres take on the Isles.

Ristolainen will also forfeit $90,000 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.