Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner

Nonis: Gunnarsson departure means Gardiner, Rielly need to step up

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One of the curious trades made on Saturday involved the Toronto Maple Leafs. They dealt defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and the 90th overall pick to the St. Louis Blues for Roman Polak.

While that deal netted the Leafs a physical blue liner, it also sent Dion Phaneuf’s top-pairing partner out of town. That means there’s a spot next to the Leafs captain and a chance to play a lot more minutes open and Leafs GM Dave Nonis said it creates a big opportunity for young defensemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly as TSN’s Jonas Siegel shared.

“Those guys are going to have to take steps forward,” Nonis said of the promising duo. “It might be a lot to ask for Morgan a little bit in his second year, but he made some pretty big strides last year and we would expect that he’ll take some more next [year]. And I think Jake is a good possibility [of doing the same] as well.”

Both players are very young but have tremendous skill.

Gardiner, 23, saw big minutes playing on the second pairing with Cody Franson and averaged 21:05 of ice time per game last season. Rielly, 20, had an impressive rookie season last year with 27 points and averaged 17:11 time on ice per game while paired with Tim Gleason on the third pairing.

Gardiner seems like the logical candidate to take Gunnarsson’s spot unless coach Randy Carlyle is reticent to break up that pairing with Franson. Either way, Phaneuf is going to have a skilled, speedy new partner to keep up with.

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

Here are Game 5 start times for all four series this coming weekend

St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) and Dallas Stars left wing Patrick Sharp (10) tangle during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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When it comes to arranging your life for maximum playoff viewership, it’s never too early to plan.

The weekend may seem like a distant cry from this Monday evening, but imagine all the bruising hits, circus saves and beautiful goals you’ll get to see and share a hearty smile.

Here’s the full rundown for when each Game 5 will start … with the Nashville Predators – San Jose Sharks series needing at least one Preds win to drop the “if necessary” disclaimer (via the NHL):

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues has been set for 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT on Saturday, May 7, in Dallas. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has been set for 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, in Washington. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, if necessary, has been set for 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT/7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 7, in San Jose. The game would be televised exclusively on NBCSN in the U.S. In Canada, the game would be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders has been set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 8, in Tampa Bay. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

After ‘rough year,’ Kronwall seeking options for ailing knee

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped up by Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Jets 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Coming off one of the worst seasons in an otherwise solid — and lengthy — career, Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall is already looking to ensure the knee issues that plagued him won’t continue on into 2016-17.

Kronwall is “getting opinions” about how to fix the knee, Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. The injury limited the Swedish rearguard to just 64 games played — and those 64 games were largely played with Kronwall not close to 100 percent.

More, from the Free Press:

At 35, Kronwall is showing the wear and tear of being, at his best, a hard-hitting workhorse defenseman. Productionwise, he had the lowest numbers of his career since 2006-07, scoring just three goals and finishing with just 26 points in 64 games. (Even during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he had five goals and 29 points in 48 games.) His minus-21 was eye-popping.

“It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways,” Kronwall said. “Definitely, a summer of good training is the first thing that you need, and the rest of it will play out as you go along.”

The Wings will be hopeful Kronwall can return to form.

He’s still got plenty of time left on his current deal — three more years, at a $4.75M cap hit — and is still considered a key part to the Red Wings defense, which wasn’t great this year and doesn’t project to be a heckua lot better next year.

If Kronwall can’t get back to form, it could push Holland even harder to make a trade to beef up the blueline.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.