PHT Morning Skate: Hawks, Ducks need one more win

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The Boston Bruins became the second team to advance to the Conference Semifinals on Saturday, but once again the San Jose Sharks couldn’t seal the deal. Meanwhile, 18-year-old forward Nathan MacKinnon scored in overtime to give the Avalanche a 3-2 series lead over Minnesota.

This should be another eventful day of playoff hockey. We got three games and two of them are potential elimination contests.

Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers [Series tied 2-2] (12:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason missed the beginning of the series due to an upper-body injury, but he got his first start of the playoffs on Friday and stopped 37 of 38 shots en route to a 2-1 victory.

Mason gave the Rangers problems in the regular season too, holding them to six goals on 95 shots over three games. With this matchup now a best-of-three, the question is if New York can figure out Mason before its too late.

Listening to the Rangers after the game, it’s clear that they think they could have made life harder for Mason in Game 4. Rick Nash argued that they needed to put more traffic in front of Mason to generate juicier scoring chances.

Nash, by the way, hasn’t found the back of the net in the playoffs and now has just two goals in 20 career postseason games. For a guy that’s known as a sniper, now is the time for him to elevate his game.

Game 6: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Blackhawks lead 3-2] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

St. Louis won the first two games of the series, but the defending Stanley Cup champions aren’t ones to crumble when faced with adversity.

Both teams have had to fight for every inch as four of the five games have gone to overtime, but at the end of the day, Chicago has pushed St. Louis to the brink. The Blackhawks’ elite have once again excelled in clutch situations as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews scored the game-winning goal in overtime in back-to-back contests.

“Everybody is a little discouraged, a little down,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock admitted, “but (Sunday) we’ll get ourselves ready.”

St. Louis is still a team with plenty of offensive depth, a topnotch defensive core, and one of the best goaltenders in the game. Just as the Blackhawks couldn’t be dismissed when they were down, the Blues shouldn’t be written off now.

Game 6: Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars [Ducks lead 3-2] (8:00 p.m. ET – NBCSN)

Dallas rallied back from a 2-0 series deficit, but after finally tying the series, the Stars collapsed in the third period of Game 5. Anaheim netted three unanswered goals to earn a 6-2 victory.

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have frustrated Dallas, combining for five goals and 12 points. Getzlaf and Perry ranked second and fifth in the NHL scoring race during the regular season, but the Stars have a duo that did nearly as well in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Unfortunately for the Stars, Seguin hasn’t managed to contribute much offensively in the first round.

Dallas needs more out of him to stay alive, but the team also has to hope that goalie Kari Lehtonen shrugs off his rough start. He was pulled in the third period after stopping just 16 of 21 shots. He now has a 2.97 GAA and .896 save percentage in the first round despite the fact that he posted a shutout in Game 3.

It’s worth adding that Anaheim has lost its last three playoff series. The Ducks had a 3-2 lead against Detroit in the first round last year, but lost its final two games, including Game 7 at home.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindross, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.