PHT Morning Skate: Battered Ducks aim to even series

After being dominated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in three straight games, the New York Rangers fought back last night with a decisive 5-1 victory to stay alive. After that, the Wild followed in their footsteps by defending the Xcel Energy Center for the second consecutive contest to even their series with Chicago.

We got another two games ahead of us tonight as we get deep into the second round.

Game 5: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins [Series tied at 2-2] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The rivalry between Boston and Montreal is as old as it is fierce, and so far the latest chapter of their battle hasn’t disappointed.

Tuukka Rask and Carey Price were locked in a goaltending duel in Game 4 when 23-year-old Bruins forward Matt Fraser, playing in his first NHL playoff game and powered by frozen yogurt, broke the scoreless tie in overtime. In doing so, he became the first player to ever net AHL and NHL postseason overtime winners in the same season.

Will it be remembered as the goal that turned the series? This is now a best-of-three and for the first time since Game 1, the Bruins have reclaimed home ice advantage. That obviously helps, but having two of the final three games in Boston’s TD Garden isn’t a huge edge in a series like this.

“It’s back and forth, it’s been close and so expect another close game (tonight),” Bruins defenseman Gregory Campbell said, per the Bruins’ website.

Game 4: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings [Los Angeles leads 2-1] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

Winning Game 3 got the Anaheim Ducks back into this series, but it came at a high price. The Ducks lost goaltender Frederik Andersen as well as forwards Matt Beleskey and Mathieu Perreault to lower-body injuries, putting their availability for tonight’s contest in doubt.

The most pressing question is who will play between the pipes for Anaheim. Andersen would probably be the first choice after his strong performance in Game 3 before he was hurt, but obviously he might not be an option.

That makes Hiller the likely pick. After all, he did rise to the challenge despite wasting away on the bench for most of the game. Plus he actually has a solid 1.99 GAA and .918 save percentage in the 2014 playoffs — albeit in limited duties. At the same time, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t shown much faith in Hiller and even now, Boudreau isn’t ready to name the veteran goaltender as his starter over 20-year-old call up John Gibson.

“I fully believe that Gibson can play. I fully believe that Hiller can play. It’s quite a gamble to use Gibson but I’ve done them before. You live and die with the way you feel, I guess,” Boudreau told the Los Angeles Times.

Could that be a bit of playoff gamesmanship? Absolutely, but given how many times Boudreau has chosen to go with a less experienced option over Hiller so far in the postseason, it might be more than that.

Either way, the Ducks still aren’t out of the woods and winning back-to-back games at the Staples Center is a tall task.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.