Let’s look at the many, many key injuries heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs

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Over the next few months, you’ll be subjected to a litany of stories — some written by PHT! — about players getting hurt during the exhausting, physical Stanley Cup playoff grind.

So why not get out in front, and look at all the injuries heading into the postseason?

Because there are a lot of them.

• We begin in Pittsburgh, where the defending champs have lost No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang (neck) for the year. It’s an absolutely massive void to fill. Letang played arguably the best hockey of his career in helping the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games while averaging a team-high 28:53 of ice time.

Pittsburgh probably has better overall defensive depth than last year — the trade deadline acquisitions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit certainly helped — so the hope is the collective can mitigate the loss. But there’s no sugarcoating Letang’s absence. It’s huge.

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As for the other limping Penguins, there’s no definitive word on the returns of Evgeni Malkin (missed last 13 games with an upper-body injury) and Carl Hagelin (missed last 16 games with a lower-body injury). Malkin appears close to returning, having practiced last week. Hagelin is back skating, but might not be ready for Game 1 against Columbus on Wednesday.

Finally, Chris Kunitz is out long-term with a lower-body ailment.

• Boston could be without Torey Krug (lower body) for its entire opening-round series against Ottawa, and rookie Brandon Carlo (upper body) is definitely out for Game 1. Krug was injured in the Bruins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, and then Carlo was forced to leave their final game.

The Bruins did address those losses by signing prized prospect Charlie McAvoy to his entry-level deal, and McAvoy immediately began practicing on a d-pair with John-Michael Liles. But McAvoy is only 19 years old, and has never played in the NHL. The Bruins are already asking a lot of McAvoy just by putting him in, so it’s safe to suggest he won’t be getting the usual ice times of Krug (21:36 per night) or Carlo (20:49). As such, look for Liles, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to get a bump, and for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to shoulder an even heavier load.

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• Yet another key blueliner is expected to miss the entire first round — Anaheim’s Cam Fowler. Fowler suffered a knee injury on a hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano near the end of the regular season, and will miss the next 2-6 weeks as a result.

The Ducks have a very deep defense, and are better equipped than most to deal with the loss. And while it is a sizable loss — Fowler averages nearly 25 minutes a night, and leads all Anaheim d-men in scoring — head coach Randy Carlyle can still ice a top-six of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Kevin Bieksa, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore, with a veteran like Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

• St. Louis has been without top center Paul Stastny for nearly three weeks, as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury. Blues head coach Mike Yeo played coy when asked if Stastny would be ready for the opener against the Wild, saying “we’ll see” while grinning.

Earlier, Yeo was much more vocal in explaining how big a role Stastny plays.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”‘

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• Physical Habs d-man Alexei Emelin is definitely out for Game 1 of the Rangers series, and possibly more. Emelin missed the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body ailment.

• Caps blueliner John Carlson (lower body) missed the last four games of the season, but that was precautionary as Washington didn’t have much to play for. He is expected to play Game 1 against Toronto.

• Ottawa d-man Marc Methot hasn’t suited up since getting his finger mangled on a Sidney Crosby slash in late March, but could be back in time for Game 1 against Boston. In fact, all the banged-up Sens might be in the opener — Erik Karlson (foot) is expected to play, as is forward Zack Smith.

• There was some thought Columbus d-man Ryan Murray would return from his broken hand in time for the playoffs… but it’s not shaping up that way. Zach Werenski, meanwhile, is expected to be ready for Game 1 against Pittsburgh, after sitting down the stretch with a shoulder ailment.

• Finally, we get to the Sharks, who lost both Logan Couture (face/mouth) and Joe Thronton (knee) to injuries over the final week of the season. Thornton said there was “no doubt” he’d be in for the opener in Edmonton, but has infrequently skated or participated in practice since then. Couture has also skated and practiced occasionally, but missed the final seven games of the season and was decidedly less committal about his playoff availability.

It is worth noting, though, that both Thornton and Couture practiced with the Sharks on Monday.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.