Blackhawks take 2-0 series lead against Wild after pulling away in third period

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Much like Game 1, the contest was quite a bit closer than the final score might indicate,* but the bottom line is that the Chicago Blackhawks now have a 2-0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild after winning Game 2 by a 4-1 mark on Sunday.

Closer than it appears?

It’s easy to see that the Blackhawks are hot right now. Stretching back to their first-round battle against the St. Louis Blues, they’ve now won six consecutive playoff games.

It’s also a special win for head coach Joel Quenneville, for those counting:

The good news for the Wild is that they’ve been here before. The Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead against them in round one only to see Minnesota advance after seven games (which included an overtime battle in that decisive game). While the first two games against Colorado were often out of control for Minnesota, these first two losses were tighter until the Blackhawks pulled away in the third period of each game.

The shot totals probably tell the story best: Minnesota limited Chicago to 22 shots on goal in both games.

Not easy for Breezy

For all the good that comes out of those observations, the bottom line is that the Wild have been outscored by a combined score of 9-3 through these first two games.

Fair or not, one must wonder if Minnesota can put much trust in Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian-born goalie has lost four of five games in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and his lone win came in just 13:15 of game time (from Game 7 after Darcy Kuemper left with an injury). His individual numbers haven’t been very strong, either, so it’s not just a matter of the team in front of him.

It’s probably true that Bryzgalov isn’t the only problem for Minnesota, yet they might just need him to carry them at times. (The goals often haven’t been Breezy’s fault, but his prospects as an unrestricted free agent seem to dip with each start.)

Bickell heats up

While Patrick Kane understandably grabbed the spotlight in Chicago’s Game 1 win, it’s worth noting that the Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa line is on fire for the ‘Hawks.

Toews scored the first goal for Chicago, Bickell collected two assists and added a goal in the third period (after clanging the iron on his previous shift) and Hossa had three helpers in Game 2. It’s little surprise that Toews and Hossa are looking strong, but Bickell seems to be on track for a playoff breakthrough for the second straight year. After only managing 15 points in 59 games in the regular season, Bickell has eight playoff points (all in a four-game streak).

If this trio can keep it going, it will be highly difficult for any team to slow Chicago down.

* – In the case of Game 1, it was 5-2.

Here are PHT’s Stanley Cup Final predictions

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Here we go!

After three rounds of scintillating predictions — well, from me anyway — we’ve finally reached the apex: Nashville versus Pittsburgh in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

PHT’s conference final picks went reasonably well. I went 2-0, as did Cam Tucker and Adam Gretz. Everybody else went 1-1, humans and non-humans alike.

If you’ve been following along throughout the playoffs, you’ll know that we enlisted the services of The Random Thing Picker. It, as the name suggests, picks random things, and in doing so has compiled a 9-5 overall record these playoffs.

As for the sentient beings? I’m 11-3 (and moving to Vegas next week), Tucker’s 9-5, Alfieri’s 8-6, Gretz and Brough are 7-7, and O’Brien’s bringing up the rear at 6-8.

Onto the picks…

Halford: Penguins in 7

I’ve analyzed this series 15 different ways now, and I keep coming back to one thing — the center position. Under any other circumstance, I think Nashville has enough strengths in goal and on defense and on the wing to overcome the loss of Ryan Johansen. But that’s under any other circumstance. Under this one, its a nightmare. The Pens have the league’s best one-two combo down the middle in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and a quality No. 3 in Nick Bonino. With all due respect to Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Vern Fiddler and a banged-up Mike Fisher, the disparity in talent at center between the teams is just too much.

More: Minus Johansen, the Preds have ‘some big shoes’ to fill

Brough: Penguins in 6

In the preseason, I picked the Pens to become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. And I felt great about my prediction, right until Kris Letang was lost for the playoffs. Then, I totally bailed on them. I was convinced the Caps would beat them in the second round. To me, it seemed like Washington’s time had finally come. How wrong I was. So now I’ve come crawling back to Pittsburgh. To be sure, this is not quite the dominant team that rolled through last year’s postseason and took out the Sharks in a series that wasn’t nearly as close as the six games suggested. But all things being equal, I like the Pens minus Letang more than I like the Predators minus Johansen.

More: For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

O’Brien: Penguins in 6

Months ago, these teams deployed the elements you’d expect from a contender. At this point, Nashville forwards are either done for the playoffs (Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala) or missing games. Meanwhile, the Penguins came into the playoffs with the glaring loss of Kris Letang on defense and have dealt with a ton of attrition in their own right. We’re left with a star-studded Penguins offense taking on a dauntingly deep Predators defense, and both goalies are playing great hockey. So, this isn’t an easy choice even by the standards of a postseason that’s been tough to crack. When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention Matt Murray and Mike Sullivan. But do note there is doubt.

Tucker: Penguins in 6

Despite missing Ryan Johansen for the latter part of the Western Conference Final, the Predators got by Anaheim without their top center, which is testament to how that roster is built in Nashville. I know the Predators have been propelled by great goaltending from Pekka Rinne and a very good, very productive group of defensemen, but I can’t see Nashville winning the championship without Johansen in this series. The Penguins are just way too talented and deep up the middle. It’s scary when you can go with Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin at center. The Penguins have been without Kris Letang for the entire playoffs — a huge loss. But they’ve managed to get by, and with Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz back, that’s quite a boost to their blue line and lineup at this point in the playoffs. The Predators deserve a tremendous amount of praise for their playoff run. Don’t think many had them to beat the Blackhawks, never mind sweep them. It’s been a historical spring for that franchise. But I feel not having Ryan Johansen in this series will eventually catch up to them.

Alfieri: Penguins in 6

Coming into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I didn’t think the Penguins would make it this far because of the amount of hockey their top players have played (last year’s long playoff run and the World Cup) over the last year. Not only have they been able to go on a great run, they overcame two Game 7s to do it. I realize that Nashville is clearly better on defense, but Pittsburgh’s group of blue liners have stepped up in Kris Letang’s absence. In my mind, the biggest thing separating these two teams is their depth down the middle. Even if Ryan Johansen was healthy, they’d still have their hands full with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. No team has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years in the salary cap era, but I think the Pens get it done.

Gretz: Penguins in 6

The Predators were my preseason pick to win it all, and if they had a healthy Ryan Johansen I might stick with them at this point. But the loss of Johansen just seems like a pretty devastating blow because you need a No. 1 center to win the Stanley Cup. Nashville has the huge edge on defense at this point, and Pittsburgh is missing an essential Stanley Cup ingredient of its own with Kris Letang out, but that center matchup just seems like a major issue for the Predators. While the Penguins can roll with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Nashville will be countering with Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons. Between them that trio has six goals and seven assists (combined) this postseason. That seems like a problem.

Random Thing Picker: Predators

You humans are weak and simple-minded. This is why we will one day rule the planet, beginning with this sorry website.

Report: Panthers will indeed ask for permission to speak with Housley after Stanley Cup Final

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When it comes to finding a new head coach, the Florida Panthers continue to wait for the dust to settle in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That’s because Phil Housley is still working behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, who face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, with Game 1 going tonight.

According to Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel on Sunday, citing an interview on NBC Sports Final, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon will indeed wait until after the championship series is decided to ask the Predators for permission to speak with Housley.

There had been conflicting reports earlier this month about whether the Panthers were done waiting for the playoffs to end before they advanced their search for a new coach.

Read more: Report: Panthers to interview Reirden for head coaching gig

Housley has emerged this spring as a strong candidate to potentially become a head coach next season.

There are currently two vacancies left in the league — in Buffalo and Florida. Housley began his NHL career with the Sabres in 1982, and played with that franchise until 1990.

Housley’s prime responsibilities in Nashville are working with its defensemen and the power play.

There have been many factors contributing to the Predators’ playoff run. At or near the top of the list has been the play and production from their blue liners, particularly Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm.

Related: Panthers looking for ‘modern day guy’ as next head coach

After winning the Memorial Cup, Habs’ Sergachev is hoping to play in the NHL next season

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Mikhail Sergachev just completed his second season in North America, but he’s already accomplished so much in his short time here.

After his first year with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, Sergachev was drafted ninth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

In year two, he came away with the Memorial Cup title, as his team defeated the Erie Otters in the final last night.

With year three on the horizon, the 19-year-old is hoping to take another huge step in his career.

In an on-ice interview with RDS, Sergachev admitted that he’s hoping to make the leap to the NHL with the Canadiens next season.

“I hope so,” Sergachev said, when asked if Sunday’s game was hist last in junior. “I want to move on and play in the NHL next year and try to win another cup.

“I think (I’m ready for the NHL), I just have to have a good summer and good camp as I did last year.”

The Russian defenseman broke camp with Montreal at the start of the 2016-17 season. He played four games with the club before being returned to Windsor at the of the October.

During that four-game stint, it was clear that Sergachev was talented, but also obvious that he was still very raw and needed to work on his game at the junior level.

The Canadiens have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Alexei Emelin, Brandon Davidson and Jordie Benn under contract next season, while Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov are both RFAs. Andrei Markov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

There’s a good chance Markov will be back, but it’s unlikely Beaulieu and Nesterov will return. Montreal could also lose Emelin, Davidson or Benn in the expansion draft.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 29

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After going three full days without any NHL hockey, we’ll finally get to see some action, as Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final goes tonight in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will look to become the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, while the Predators will try to land the first championship in team history.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network NBCSN (Stream online here)

Related:

For Pittsburgh’s defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

Pens can become first repeat in salary cap era

Minus Johansen, Preds have “some big shoes to fill”

On the big stage, Subban can’t espace “The Trade”