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.

Sadly, Capitals aren’t selling this collection of Christmas songs

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Let’s be honest, virtually any time a team gets its players to embrace a holiday theme, it’s in the name of goofiness. And bless NHL teams for this.

When it comes to Movember, you get the fantastic combination of mustaches and charitable contributions.

The holidays are rapidly approaching (hey, I see that Amazon tab open), so we’ll start to see various New Year’s/Christmas/Festivus/etc.-themed fun. Even with that in mind, the Washington Capitals will be tough to top with their collection of Christmas tunes.

Sadly, there’s no Volume 1:

Question: which performance stood out to you the most? While Braden Holtby was fantastic (with a Tomas Plekanec-level turtleneck game), the simple entertainment of watching Alex Ovechkin sing is tough to top.

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.

 

Video: Michael Grabner totally meant to do this for Rangers

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Depending upon how things go for each team, the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins may very well grapple for a wild-card spot in the East.

Thankfully, it won’t come down to Michael Grabner‘s deeply weird, memorable, and fun goal against Tuukka Rask, a “bank” goal that Grabner totally meant to do. Right?

(Watch that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

That was Grabner’s 16th goal of 2017-18, which isn’t half-bad for a guy carrying a $1.65 million cap hit this season. Prediction: the speedy winger will cost quite a bit more than that in 2018-19.

As you can see in this video, Alain Vigneault points to Grabner gathering steam in his second season with the Rangers as part of the reason this team is turning things around:

J.T. Miller added a beauty of a goal to make it 2-0, but the Bruins dug deep to tie it 2-2, so we’ll see how the rest of that game goes.

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 NHL 100 CLASSIC LIVE: Montreal Canadiens at Ottawa Senators

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PROJECTED LINES

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards

Pacioretty – Danault – Byron

Galchenyuk – Drouin – Shaw

Hudon – Plekanec – Gallagher

Deslauriers – Froese/de la Rose – Carr

Defense

Alzner – Petry

Benn – Weber

Schlemko – Jerabek/Morrow

Starting Goalie: Carey Price

[NHL On NBCSN: Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators Meet In NHL 100 Classic]

Ottawa Senators

Forwards

Ryan – Duchene – Stone

Dzingel – Brassard – Hoffman

Smith – Pageau – Pyatt

Burrows – Thompson – Dumont

Defense

Oduya – Karlsson

Phaneuf – Ceci

Claesson – Chabot

Starting goalie: Craig Anderson

 

 

Eugene Melnyk’s Senators are kind of a mess right now

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As the Ottawa Senators prepare to head into their outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night it is really difficult to imagine this is the same organization that was one game away from winning the entire Eastern Conference just seven months ago.

It’s taken a less than a year for all of the goodwill that improbable playoff run created among the team’s fan base to be almost completely wiped away.

And it’s not just because the product on the ice has badly regressed.

Actually, that is probably the least of their concerns at this point.

On a day that is supposed to be a celebration and a highlight of the team’s season — a home outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens!– the fan base is instead staging a social media rebellion against team owner Eugene Melnyk with the #melnykout hashtag on Twitter.

[NHL On NBCSN: Senators, Canadiens Meet In NHL 100 Classic]

Pretty much every reply to every Tweet from the Senators’ social media team is being bombarded with that hashtag as fans voice their displeasure. On Saturday afternoon #melynkout was one of the top trending topics in all of Canada.

Just a quick recap of everything that has gone wrong in recent weeks to help get things to this boiling point.

  • Erik Karlsson, the team’s best player, a generational talent, and a superstar that has played the past few seasons on a below market contract made some comments that indicated he would not be willing to take another hometown discount when his contract expires after next season. Given the team’s financials it is pretty clear that he already has one foot out the door.
  • The team, struggling on the ice and apparently desperate to make a move, is reportedly fielding calls on every player on the roster, including Karlsson.
  • Kyle Turris, traded as part of the Matt Duchene trade, suggested the team’s front office wanted to re-sign him but ownership did not. Turris and his new team, the Nashville Predators, have been unstoppable since the trade while Duchene and the Senators have been stuck in neutral.
  • General manager Pierre Dorion denied that claim and said all hockey moves go through him, not the owner. That press conference from Dorion included the anecdote that Dorion’s own son said the team’s “level of suckage is high.”
  • Then, on Friday night, on the night before the team’s outdoor game, Melnyk poured a bucket of gasoline on the tire fire that is his team and made some ominous comments about the team’s financial situation and future in Ottawa.

Melnyk is no stranger to bringing some less than desirable attention to his team. The whole forensic investigation surrounding the Matt Cooke and Erik Karlsson incident; the way he lost his mind in the wake of the Sidney Crosby/Marc Methot incident. But to make comments like the ones he made on Friday, on the eve of a major NHL and team event, and given everything else surrounding the team and his ownership at the moment, is astonishing even for him.

Oh, and the team itself is still seven points out of a playoff spot and sitting in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.

Given all of that it is really difficult to imagine a bleaker long-term outlook for any fan base in the NHL. Which situation can possibly be worse?

The only one that really comes close at this point from is probably the Detroit Red Wings, and that is strictly from a hockey standpoint. The Red Wings are a sub-par team saddled with a ton of long-term contracts, little in the way of young, impact talent and are in dire need of a rebuild but seem reluctant to actually go through with it. It might be a long time before the Red Wings are a factor in the Eastern Conference again, but at least they are not in danger of moving (or at least having that threat thrown out there). They don’t have an owner that fans are openly revolting against.

Even the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have some reason to be hopeful from a hockey standpoint (Jack Eichel in Buffalo; Arizona is struggling, but they have a ton of young talent).

But the Senators? What is the reason for optimism here?

They have a generational superstar that might be one of the finest players to ever play his position and it is only a matter of when, and not if, he is playing for another team.

The owner, seemingly unwilling to sell the team, doesn’t seem to respect his own fan base and doesn’t seem to have the funds to consistently put a competitive product on the ice.

If you are Senators fan, what can you possibly have to look forward to right now, whether it be for the rest of this season or beyond?

It is a grim situation to be sure.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.