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.

Looking to make the leap: Josh Ho-Sang

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders made something of a gamble when they selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now that bet could start to pay off handsomely.

Even before Ho-Sang was drafted he was attracting quite a bit of attention. He had the tools to be a big offensive threat, but there were concerns about his attitude.

“I don’t think it’s from unfair labels, it’s from stuff that I’ve done,” he told the Windsor Star back in June 2014. He later added, “I’ve just not done certain things the proper way. That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up.”

Those statements of acknowledgment can be seen as encouraging, but the warning signs continued as he showed up late for the first day of training camp in 2015 and the Islanders addressed it by immediately returning him to the OHL. Fortunately since then there has been more encouraging news about Ho-Sang.

He went pro in 2016-17 and had an strong season in both the AHL and NHL. With the Islanders he scored four goals and 10 points in 21 contests while getting a solid 16:27 minutes per game. That left an impression on Islanders coach Doug Weight.

“Josh was great,” Weight said. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.”

Ho-Sang’s spot on the Islanders still isn’t guaranteed, but he’s put himself in a position where it’s very plausible that he’ll be part of the team’s opening game roster. If he plays well he could end up being a significant presence on the club throughout the season.

All the while he might be making the case that the Islanders’ gamble has turned into a steal.

Beauchemin signs on for third stint with Ducks (Updated)

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Francois Beauchemin will once again be playing for the Anaheim Ducks, according to TVA Sports and Renaud Lavoie.

Updated: The Ducks have since confirmed a one-year deal for Beauchemin.

The contract reportedly comes with a base salary of $1 million and the potential to earn roughly $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

This would be Beauchemin’s third stint with the team. He played with Anaheim for parts of four campaigns from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Along the way he averaged a staggering 30:33 minutes per game in the playoffs during the Ducks’ 2007 championship run. His second stint with the club spanned parts of five seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. As was the case during his previous run, Beauchemin was a workhorse and in the 2013 lockout shortened season he also finished fourth in the Norris Trophy vote.

Beauchemin spent the last two seasons with Colorado. Although he’s 37-years-old now, Beauchemin has only missed one game over the last two seasons and still averaged 21:31 minutes in 2016-17.

Despite that, Colorado decided to buy him out this summer, which freed up a protected list spot for the expansion draft and created an opening for the club’s younger defensemen as the Avalanche focus on rebuilding.

Given that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen might start the season on the sidelines, adding another blueliner capable of serving in a top-four role like Beauchemin has the potential to be a big boost for the Ducks.

Gaborik unlikely to be ready for start of training camp

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Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from a non-surgical procedure to address his “chronic” knee issue will likely bleed into training camp.

“He’s progressing pretty well from the summer,” Kings GM Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider. “He still has some difficulty with some of the lifts and the strength. We’re probably not sure if we’ll see him in training camp right away, but again, he’s a guy that trains at a very high level and he’s made a commitment to stay in L.A. after he got married, get the rehab back on course. We’re hopeful he can get back to the level that he started last season and the World Cup at.”

Gaborik has been an elite scorer at times during his career, but injuries have been a recurring issue for him. Over the past four seasons he’s played in 220 of a possible 328 contests and he’s been limited to 43 points in 110 games over the last two campaigns.

That’s particularly worrying given that the 35-year-old forward still has four seasons left on his seven-year contract worth roughly $34 million. At the same time a bounce back campaign out of Gaborik would go a long way towards addressing the offensive woes Los Angeles endured in 2016-17.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.