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.

NHL Playoff Push: Another huge day ahead for Western Conference race

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Entering play on Sunday there are six teams in the Western Conference that fighting for three playoff spots (the third spot in the Pacific Division, both Wild Cards). Those teams are all separated by just four points.

Five of those teams are in action on Sunday.

First, here is a look at how the standings look entering the day.

The Kings lost on Saturday to New Jersey and failed to gain any ground on the rest of the pack, while the Blues were able to get a huge win against the New York Rangers and set up another big game for them on Sunday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks. You can catch that game on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

On Sunday the Avalanche are hosting a Detroit team that is just circling the drain down the stretch and have a great opportunity to pick up two more huge points. The other Wild Card team at the moment, Dallas, is trending in the wrong direction down the stretch having won just five of their past 16 games. They are in Winnipeg on Sunday to play a Jets team that has one of the most powerful offenses in the league.

The Ducks, meanwhile, who can climb into the third spot in the Pacific Division with a point on Sunday, are hosing the Devils team that knocked off the Kings on Saturday.

The other team in that mix is Calgary. The Flames are the team that probably have the longest odds in this group, sitting four points back with all of the aforementioned teams sitting ahead of them. They are in Vegas to take on one of the best home teams in the league this season. The Flames, for what it is worth, have been one of the absolute best road teams. Given the standings and deficit they are facing the Flames have almost no margin for error the rest of the way.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

In the East, New Jersey has a chance to to move up a couple of spots in the standings with a win and some help.

A Devils win in Anaheim, combined with a Flyers loss to the Washington Capitals, would put the Devils into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Even if the Flyers win and maintain their hold on the No. 3 spot in the Metro the Devils could still leapfrog the Blue Jackets for the first Wild Card spot.

The other game in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with playoff implications is Tampa Bay hosting the Edmonton Oilers.

The Lightning have seen its lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle down to just two points after losing to the Boston  Bruins on Saturday night while the Bruins still have a game in hand. The Lightning could reclaim that four point lead with a win. The Oilers have been playing a bit better as of late, thanks almost entirely to Connor McDavid making a late season push for the scoring title.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Sunday’s Key Games

Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 4 p.m. ET
Edmonton Oilers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 5 p.m. ET
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Stars vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m ET
New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to continue playoff push against Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The St. Louis Blues are one of the many teams in the middle of the free-for-all playoff race that is the Western Conference and are in desperate need of wins. They got a huge one on Saturday night by defeating the New York Rangers in overtime, and now they need to come back 24 hours later and try to get another one when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

The only downside to Saturday’s win is that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko left the game due to an injury.

His status for Sunday is uncertain at this point, but it would obviously be a pretty significant blow to the Blues’ lineup if he is unable to go.

He is the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) and is second in total points with 57, trailing only the 59 that Brayden Schenn has.

The Blues enter the day three points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and have a chance to pick up a couple of more points in that race if they can knock off a Blackhawks team that is, if we are being completely honest, going in the tank down the stretch.

After losing to Buffalo on Saturday the Blackhawks are just 8-18-2 in their past 28 games.

This is one of three games that the Blues have remaining with the Blackhawks down the stretch.

St. Louis has been through a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks recently. It is a stretch that included a pretty significant collapse in the standings, a major trade (Paul Stastny), and some significant injuries. But they are still alive in the playoff race, barely, thanks to wins in three of their past four games.

They desperately need another one on Sunday night.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Shutouts for three, Dubnyk gets win No. 200

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Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils and Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do we begin on the night of the shutout? Rask didn’t have a particularly busy night making 23 saves, but when you’re facing names like Kucherov and Stamkos, it’s always dangerous. Still, Rask kept rolling along. He is 27-3-2 in his past 32 starts. That’s just silly. … Kinkaid, meanwhile stopped 38 — including 19 in the first period — in a 3-0 win against the Kings for his fourth career shutout. … No Frederik Andersen for Toronto? No problem. McElhinney stepped in and pitched a 33-save performance as the Leafs down the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The Blues defenseman scored twice in regulation and then assisted on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime winner to cap off a three-point night.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While he didn’t get a shutout, Dubnyk did stop 30 of 31 en route to his 200th career NHL win. The win was also important for the Wild, who moved to within five points of the Winnipeg Jets for second place in the Central Division, and moved five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for third place.

Highlights of the Night:

Filthy pass:

First-goal celebrations are always the best:

Voracek with a slick move in front:

Save of the year candidate:

Factoids of the Night:

Home is where the wins are:

A legend passes a legend:

Believe in McJesus:

Scary Scenes of the Night:


Sabres 5, Blackhawks 3

Oilers 4, Panthers 2

Devils 3, Kings 0

Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 0

Bruins 3, Lightning 0

Flyers 4, Hurricanes 2

Blue Jackets 2, Senators 1

Blue 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Wild 3, Coyotes 1

Sharks 5, Canucks 3

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

He did not return to the game.

If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck