PHT Morning Skate: Habs fight to overcome Rangers blowout victory

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For the second straight year, the Western Conference playoffs has come down to a series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Chicago struck first yesterday, overcoming a disallowed goal that was quickly followed by Kings forward Tyler Toffoli finding the back of the net, to earn a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles.

The Kings refused to blame fatigue for their disappointing Game 1 despite the fact that they had just finished their second straight seven-game series. Even still, the fact that they won’t play again until Wednesday should be to their benefit.

In the meantime, the Eastern Conference Final will continue:

Game 2: New York Rangers versus Montreal Canadiens [Rangers lead series 1-0] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The only silver lining Montreal can take from the series opener is that it was just one game. The Rangers struck early and often in Game 1 en route to a 7-2 blowout victory.

For a New York team that has had some offensive issues thus far, the victory had to be a huge confidence booster. Their power-play — which has been more miss than hit over the course of the playoffs — was three-for-seven, Rick Nash finally scored a goal, and Ryan McDonagh enjoyed a four-point game against the team that drafted him.

The news on the other end wasn’t so cheery as goaltender Carey Price might have been hurt when Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him on Saturday.

Price initially stayed in the game and after he was finally pulled, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien downplayed the decision. However, Price only skated for five minutes Sunday morning and skipped the team’s optional practice.

When Therrien was asked if he had any doubt about Price’s availability for Game 2, he said, “I can’t tell you that right now.”

If Price isn’t able to play, it would be a serious blow to Montreal. Peter Budaj is a capable backup, but he has a career 5.13 GAA and .843 save percentage in seven playoff contests and the 20 minutes he played in Game 1 marked his first appearance in over a month. He might be respectable if Montreal needs him to play, but he’s unlikely to steal the show like Price can or win a goaltending duel against Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

All the same, Montreal is far from out of this series and the Rangers understand that.

“We’re going to see a whole different team (tonight) and we’re expecting a big push from them,” Brad Richards said.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.