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Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen can’t crack playoff lineups

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Late in the regular season, two strong teams seemingly got better when the Boston Bruins lured Ryan Donato from Harvard while Eeli Tolvanen came over from the KHL to join the Nashville Predators.

Fans of both teams waited with baited breath to see them join their squads, yet right now, it seems like they’re struggling to gain traction during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s take a look at each situation.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato lost in the shuffle

The Boston Bruins have seen their 3-1 first-round series lead evaporate into a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes frustration for the dominant top line of David PastrnakPatrice BergeronBrad Marchand and is calling for more production from Rick Nash.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s done plenty of “tinkering” lately, yet if the most recent lines are any indication, Donato is still losing that game of musical chairs.

Whether it’s Tommy Wingels or Danton Heinen, the Bruins have mixed different forwards in, but Donato’s been absent most of the time, even when Bergeron was a surprise scratch. At this point, it’s fair to be confused, especially when you consider that Boston has enjoyed so much success by handing young players the car keys rather than distrusting them like many other teams do. It’s quite baffling for a Bruins team that currently looks a bit too dependent upon a few players to beat red-hot Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.

Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones discussed the merits of choosing Donato over the likes of Wingels:

Through six games in this series, the Bruins dressed Donato once: in Game 2. He didn’t get much of a chance, receiving just 9:24 of ice time.

Now, it’s fine that they did as much there, as the Bruins dominated their way to a 7-3 win. Still, it doesn’t exactly give Donato much of an opportunity to prove himself, either.

The 22-year-old’s generally been running with his real opportunities so far in the NHL, too. Donato did so most dramatically in his NHL debut on March 19, scoring a goal and two assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a heck of a statement for someone who was still worrying about grades.

His NHL career amounts to a small sample right now, but Donato made a compelling argument that he could help the Bruins with supplemental scoring. Through 12 regular-season games, Donato collected five goals and four assists for nine points. He never went more than two contests without generating a goal or an assist.

While Donato received the cushy zone starts you’d expect from a fresh face, he did his part by generating nice possession stats.

Sure, the jury’s out on whether he can be a consistent point producer at the NHL level … but it’s also bewildering that the Bruins wouldn’t look to him for a possible scoring boost.

If nothing else, Donato could make sense in a role as an offensive specialist, ideally adding some creativity to a power play that needs it. After scoring five power-play goals through the first two games in this series, the Bruins have only connected once in the past four contests, going 1-for-9. Some of that might be a matter of referees rarely reaching for their whistles (they only received three power-play opportunities in the series’ three games in Toronto, really emphasizing home-ice advantage?), but Donato could give them as shot in the arm.

Not doing so could lead to a lot of soul-searching if the Bruins fall in Game 7. Even if they advance, they really need to think long and hard about giving Donato more reps.

Tolvanen not yet fitting in

The Donato situation in Boston is more confounding because he’s shown that he can produce at the NHL level, and he’s also been thrust into prominent scenarios thanks to the Bruins’ wave of injuries.

Despite riding a wave of hype to North America, Eeli Tolvanen remains stuck in a holding pattern with the Nashville Predators.

Tolvanen failed to crack the Predators’ lineup during their six-game series against the Colorado Avalanche, even with Ryan Hartman receiving a one-game suspension. Much like Boston, Nashville saw its power play dry up after a hot start; the Predators went 0-for-9 during the last three games of that series. You’d think such relative struggles might have opened the door for Tolvanen to get a look, but that didn’t happen.

To be fair, Tolvanen hasn’t shown a ton so far with Nashville.

He only suited up for three games, failing to score a goal or an assist. It’s not as if this is a matter of bad bounces alone, as Tolvanen only managed three shots on goal, with all three SOG coming in his third appearance.

While Donato’s likely further along in his development at 22, Tolvanen is just 19 and isn’t that far removed from being drafted (30th overall in 2017). There’s a solid chance that Tolvanen simply is not ready.

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That said, the Predators are readying for what could be an epic second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets. If they want to win, they’ll likely need to play some of their best hockey, so they’d be foolish not to at least consider putting Tolvanen back in the lineup.

The Bruins organization has seen firsthand how a talented rookie can revitalize a series, as Tyler Seguin memorably gave them a big surge after being a healthy scratch during Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run.

Considering the championship aspirations of both teams, they’d be wise not to dismiss their intriguing rookies.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: King Clancy nominees; Rutherford mad at Flyers fans

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Each team unveiled their nominee for the King Clancy Award, which is given “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Ryan Getzlaf, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban, the Sedin twins are all on the list. (NHL.com)

• Winning three Stanley Cup titles in a row would be a great accomplishment for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a successful year would be making it out of the Metropolitan Division bracket. Anything beyond that is gravy. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Pens GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t happy with Flyers fans after they threw beer can on the ice following their team’s Game 6 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy sat down for a Q&A with Sports Express. He talked about Nikita Kucherov‘s ability to torment goalies, Evgeni Nabokov’s influence on him, and much more. (Raw Charge)

• Paul Maurice’s playing career came to an abrupt ending, but he managed to transition into coaching pretty quickly. Even though he had doubts early on, everything worked out. (Featurd)

• After a great season, the Avalanche decided to give Jared Bednar a one-year contract extension. Also, don’t be surprised if the team becomes even younger than they were this year. (Denver Post)

• There’s been rumblings about Erik Karlsson being on the trade market. Most teams would jump at the opportunity to acquire a player like that, but here’s three reasons why the Rangers should stay away. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• The Minnesota Wild decided to part ways with GM Chuck Fletcher for a few reasons. Cap management, the losses in the expansion draft and the struggles they’ve had in the entry draft are three of the reasons he got let go. (Hockey Wilderness)

• This gay ECHL referee hasn’t had it easy during his time in the hockey, but he keeps pushing forward with his sights set on the NHL. (New York Times)

Jim Howard of Puck Junk recently came across an audio yearbook on the 1979-1980 New York Islanders. The record touched on the Isles’ journey from an expansion team to Stanley Cup Champs. (Puck Junk)

• The Vancouver Canucks need a lot of help on defense heading into next season. They can either hope to win the right to draft Rasmus Dahlin, or they can go after John Carlson in free agency. (TSN)

• Northeastern’s Dylan Sikura was back on campus after spending some time with the Chicago Blackhawks down the stretch. (College Hockey News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Friday, as the Anaheim Ducks host the Dallas Stars at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINEUPS

STARS
Jamie BennTyler SeguinBrett Ritchie
Remi ElieRadek FaksaAlexander Radulov
Antoine RousselJason SpezzaMattias Janmark
Gemel SmithDevin ShoreTyler Pitlick

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotGreg Pateryn
Dan HamhuisJulius Honka

Starting goalie: Mike McKenna

[‘Resilient’ Ducks look to extend win streak vs. Stars]

WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET

DUCKS
Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry
Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase
Jason ChimeraDerek GrantJ.T. Brown

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour
Marcus PetterssonAndy Welinski

Starting goalie: Ryan Miller

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH]

Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin / Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark / Radek Faksa / Tyler Pitlick

Remi Elie / Devin Shore / Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel / Jason Spezza / Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell / John Klingberg

Marc Methot / Stephen Johns

Dan Hamhuis / Greg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

[Stars – Wild preview]

Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker / Eric Staal / Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise / Mikko Koivu / Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Greenway / Matt Cullen / Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik / Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno

Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin / Ryan Murphy

Nick Seeler / Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

The Buzzer: Blues keep rolling, a surprising hat trick, Ducks miss chance

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Players of the Night

Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: One of the more underrated trade deadline acquisitions has been Columbus’ pickup of Thomas Vanek from the Vancouver Canucks. He is averaging more than a point per game with the team and recorded a hat trick in their come-from-behind win on Tuesday night. The Blue Jackets fell behind by three goals in the first 10 minutes then scored seven consecutive goals to rout the Oilers.

Brandon Tanev, Winnipeg Jets: Entering play on Tuesday night Brandon Tanev had scored just four goals in 55 games for the Winnipeg Jets this season. He had not recorded a point in 12 consecutive games and had just two in his past 20. All he did on Tuesday night in a 5-4 overtime win against the Boston Bruins was score three goals for his first career hat trick. Is that the most random, unexpected hat trick in the NHL this season? It almost certainly has to be.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: As improbable as it seemed a little over a month ago, the St. Louis Blues now occupy the top wild card spot in the Western Conference. Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Tuesday night to lift the Blues to a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks, extending their current winning streak to seven games. They have also won eight out of their past nine and are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games. A stunning turnaround given the trade of Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and the number of injuries the team is currently dealing with.

Staal gets No. 40

The Minnesota Wild were losers in a shootout in Nashville on Tuesday night, but Eric Staal scored the lone goal for the Wild in the loss and in the process recorded the 40th goal of the season. He now has three 40-goal seasons in his career, making him one of just six active players in the league this season to have three of them. The others are Alex Ovechkin (nine), Steven Stamkos (four), Marian Gaborik (three), Evgeni Malkin (three), and Rick Nash (three).

Ducks let two points slip away

The Anaheim Ducks entered the night in the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division and a game against one of the NHL’s worst teams, the Vancouver Canucks. Seemed like a good opportunity to pick up two points and gain some ground in the playoff race, right?

Wrong.

They ended up scoring just a single goal and losing 4-1.

They remain one of three teams in the West tied with 91 points, joining the Blues and Kings.  They are just one point up on the Colorado Avalanche, the first team on the outside of the playoff picture. If the Kings get a point on Thursday night, and if Colorado beats the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, the Ducks could find themselves back on the outside of playoff picture this week. It is going to be an incredibly tight right between these four teams for those three spots.

The Panthers didn’t get any help

The Florida Panthers had the night off on Tuesday (they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday) but it was still a tough night for them as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils all gained points. The Blue Jackets and Devils were winners, while the Flyers picked up a point by losing in overtime to the Dallas Stars.

The Panthers still have several games in hand but they are now three points back of the Devils, five points back of the Flyers, and six points back of the Blue Jackets.

Their schedule the rest of the way is not easy with three games against the Boston Bruins, as well as games against the Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators.

Highlight of the Night

It may end up being too little, too late, but the Dallas Stars finally snapped their eight-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a 3-2 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was Alexander Radulov getting the winner on a 2-on-0 rush with Tyler Seguin.

Factoid of the Night

The New York Islanders are not going to the playoffs, they might lose John Tavares after the season, but they have another cornerstone building block in Mathew Barzal who is having an absolutely unbelievable rookie season. He continued it on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators in their 4-3 win.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 3

Detroit Red Wings 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2

Nashville Predators 2, Minnesota Wild 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Dallas Stars 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Edmonton Oilers 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, Anaheim Ducks 1

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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.