Habs-Rangers verbal battle grows louder

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It’s taken just three games for it to happen, but the full-scale war of words between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens is in full swing.

Following injuries to both Carey Price and Derek Stepan under different hotly debated circumstances have brought out staunch defenses of Chris Kreider and Brandon Prust alike. With Stepan’s broken jaw occurring after Prust’s big (and suspendable late) hit, Habs players like David Desharnais are calling the hit a good one.

As Sean Gordon of The Globe And Mail says, the talking between both sides is adding fuel to the fire of what’s become a nasty series and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault thinks he knew what Prust was hoping to do.

He’s the one who openly mentioned what [Chris] Kreider did, and other than a few over-zealous fans, 95 percent of the people in hockey knew Kreider didn’t want to hurt [Montreal goalie Carey] Price [in Game 1],” Vigneault said. “But what Prust did, by being late with the check, up toward the head, we’re going to leave it at that.”

The Habs say it’s a good hit, the Rangers disagree. Reverse the roles and you could be talking about what happened with Price.

Whether the verbal slings and arrows are just an airing of grievances or a way to campaign for more calls to be made, that’s up for debate, but the one thing it won’t do is cool tempers for either team. Either way, a series that started with talk of mutual respect has devolved into the kind of heated battle you hope for in the postseason.

After earning Memorial Cup MVP, Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome faces another important offseason

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Dylan Strome began this season in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended it in junior, earning most valuable player honors in the 2017 Memorial Cup.

Strome and his Erie Otters didn’t capture the championship, as their season ultimately ended with a loss in Sunday’s finale. The Memorial Cup title went to the Windsor Spitfires thanks to a dominant performance from Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.

Still, Strome posted 11 points in five games at the Memorial Cup, including a record-breaking seven points in a single game. That was on top of a campaign in which he had 109 points in 57 games combined between regular season and playoffs.

“There are a lot of players who get sent back and have trouble overcoming the disappointment,” Erie’s head coach Kris Knoblauch told NHL.com. “But Dylan has never been like that. That’s a major reason we are here.”

Taken third overall by the Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, Strome began this season with the big club, but after appearing in only seven games with one assist, Arizona made the decision to send its prized prospect back to juniors. (Remember, Strome wasn’t eligible at the time to play in the AHL.)

That 2015 draft was loaded with top-end, first-round talent. It started with Connor McDavid, then Jack Eichel as the top two picks. Strome was third, followed by Mitch Marner at fourth.

The Strome vs. Marner debate and comparisons started well before the draft took place. Marner has played 77 games in the NHL for the Maple Leafs, with an impressive 61 points. Could’ve been rookie of the year had it not been for playing in the same freshman class as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.

Of the top 11 picks in that draft, Strome has played the fewest NHL games so far. But he also plays center, and physical strength, especially at that position, seemed to be a focal point of his development when the Coyotes sent him down earlier in the year. His skating, too, is something Central Scouting had previously identified as needing improvement, even before the draft.

“I think Dylan, physically, it’s going to take him some time,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka earlier in the season. “That’s where we got to — that he needs to get stronger.”

Chayka later added that on-ice performance is what the Coyotes would be keeping track of while Strome was back in Erie. Strome was certainly productive — again. He had a goal and an assist in the Memorial Cup final, before receiving his MVP nod.

Last year, Strome made the Coyotes roster out of training camp, along with other youngsters Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse, and Christian Dvorak.

Pekka Rinne begins Stanley Cup Final as the Conn Smythe favorite

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Pekka Rinne enters the Stanley Cup Final as the favorite to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, according to odds released by Bovada.

No surprise.

The Predators have gone on a terrific run this postseason, hitting the high expectations laid out for them prior to the start of the season. There have been many reasons for their success this spring, most notably the play of Rinne in goal.

He started the playoffs with consecutive shutouts versus the Blackhawks and then only gave up three goals in the final two games as Nashville swept Chicago, considered the Stanley Cup favorite when the playoffs began, in the opening round.

Rinne has continued to roll, with a .941 save percentage throughout the entire playoffs, while Nashville has allowed only 29 goals in 16 games.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are also near the top of that list for the Conn Smythe odds. Crosby is the reigning Conn Smythe winner, while Malkin leads all players with 24 points in 19 playoff games.

Here are the odds, via Bovada:

Pekka Rinne    9/4

Sidney Crosby    5/2

Evgeni Malkin    7/2

Matt Murray    9/1

Filip Forsberg    10/1

Phil Kessel    10/1

PK Subban    16/1

Roman Josi    25/1

Viktor Arvidsson    33/1

Ryan Ellis    33/1

Jake Guentzel    33/1

Chris Kunitz    33/1

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday in Pittsburgh. After winning it all a year ago, the Penguins enter the series as the favorites against the Predators.

Related: Pekka Rinne has been the backbone for the Predators during run to the final

Here’s how the Penguins will line up for Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row and are looking to become the first team to win it in back-to-back years in two decades.

Here is a look at how they are expected to lineup on Monday night for the first game of the series.

Forwards

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyConor Sheary
Scott WilsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Bryan RustNick BoninoCarter Rowney
Jake GuentzelMatt CullenPatric Hornqvist

This is based on what we saw from the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa and based on the practice lines on Sunday. With Patric Hornqvist returning to the lineup on Monday night it is going to come down to Jake Guentzel or Carl Hagelin being the odd man out, and given that Hagelin spent extra time on the ice with the scratches following the morning skate it seems likely he will be the scratch. Guentzel is still the NHL’s playoff leader in goals, but is currently riding an eight-game goal drought.

The Kunitz-Crosby-Sheary line was assembled in Game 7 and produced two of the Penguins’ three goals in their double overtime win.

Defense

Ian ColeJustin Schultz
Olli MaattaTrevor Daley
Brian DumoulinRon Hainsey

While Mike Sullivan has had a tendency to throw his line combinations into a blender during the postseason, his defense pairings have remained relatively consistent as long as he has the same healthy players in the lineup. And they are the ones you see above. Cole and Schultz have spent a significant portion of the season playing alongside one another and have formed a really solid duo. Olli Maatta has had some struggles at times, but over the past couple of weeks has played some of his best hockey in over a year. All of these pairings will get a similar amount of ice time.

Goalies

Matt Murray (starter)
Marc-Andre Fleury (backup)

Murray has reclaimed his starting spot since returning from injury and has won three of his first four starts while posting a .946 save percentage. He is playing in his second Stanley Cup Final even though he is still considered a rookie in the eyes of the NHL.

Related: Here’s how the Predators will line up in Game 1

Here’s how the Predators will line up for Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will play in a Stanley Cup Final tonight.

Here’s how the Preds are expected to look in Game 1 against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena:

 

 

Forwards

Filip ForsbergColton SissonsPontus Aberg
Viktor ArvidssonMike FisherJames Neal
Colin WilsonCalle JarnkrokCraig Smith
Frederick GaudreauVernon FiddlerAustin Watson

The big omission up front is Ryan Johansen, the Preds’ No. 1 center who’s been diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome and won’t play in the final. Kevin Fiala was also lost for the playoffs after getting hurt in the second round.

Johansen was acquired last year to give the Preds the type of elite center they’d been missing. Obviously, the timing of his injury couldn’t have been much worse.

“We lost a lot of offense and a big, heavy, strong centerman in Johansen,” said Sissons. “There’s gonna be some big shoes for us to fill.”

Of note, Wilson was absent from this morning’s skate. If he doesn’t play for whatever reason, expect Cody McLeod to take his spot.

Defense

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Matt Irwin —  Yannick Weber

This is the strength of Nashville’s roster. Essentially, the Preds have two first pairings at their disposal, and head coach Peter Laviolette deploys them as such.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin told reporters yesterday that it’s like the Preds have “four Karlssons,” referring to Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban.

That’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s arguably the best top four in the league.

Goalies

Pekka Rinne (starter)
Juuse Saros (backup)

Rinne has been excellent in these playoffs, compiling a 12-4 record with a .941 save percentage. This after a regular season where his save percentage fluctuated wildly from month-to-month.

“I think we started off really well (in the playoffs) against Chicago, then you gain some confidence, and personally I was playing well,” Rinne said. “Once that ball starts rolling you feel better and better and things start to go your way. I feel the biggest thing is as a team, for a long time in the regular season we were trying to find consistency and at times we didn’t do a good job. I feel like this postseason we’ve been really consistent and solid and playing really good hockey for 16 games now.”

Rinne has been so good that Saros has yet to even play a second of the postseason.

Related: Here’s how the Penguins will line up for Game 1