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.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

PHT will make note if there are any swerves.

2016 Calder Trophy finalists: Gostisbehere, McDavid and Panarin

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid lines up for a faceoff against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Ever since the NHL kept obstruction in check and thus placed a greater emphasis on speed and skill, we’ve seen some fascinating Calder Trophy debates. This 2015-16 season may present the toughest call in recent memory.

The league named the three finalists on Monday, and even that couldn’t have been easy. They are Edmonton Oilers wunderkind Connor McDavid, breakout Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin.

(The NHL made it official here.)

All three make for fantastic debates.

Do you go with McDavid, easily the youngest of the bunch, who produced gaudy per-game numbers but missed almost half of the season?

Perhaps you lean toward Gostisbehere, who also scored at an impressive clip per-game for a defenseman while playing a huge role in the Flyers’ surprising run to a playoff spot?

Or, do you go with Panarin, the guy who easily leads rookies in total points (77, 21 more than Jack Eichel‘s second-place finish) and was so effective that his bonuses will really put the Blackhawks in a bad way? Or do you penalize Panarin for being a little older and for the undeniable benefits he received from riding shotgun with Patrick Kane?

Then again, plenty will merely spend their time griping about “snubs,” as the likes of Jack Eichel and John Gibson were not in the final three despite outstanding work.

Yep, this should be fun … just be nice during your debates.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE