Author: James O'Brien

Andrew Hammond

2015 Masterton Trophy finalists: Dubnyk, Hammond, Letang

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The Professional Hockey Writers Association named the three finalists for the 2015 Bill Masterton Trophy on Thursday: Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, Ottawa Senators netminder Andrew Hammond and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.

The award goes to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” It’s tough to think of three better nominees for the 2014-15 season.

Dubnyk, 28, went from a ruinous season in 2013-14 (being cast off by the Edmonton Oilers and eventually finding himself in career limbo) to a Vezina Trophy finalist this season. You can read more about his journey here.

Hammond, 27, came into the season as an unknown. He was an undrafted free agent with little on his resume, only to lead the Senators to one of the most unlikely playoff bids in recent memory (if ever). He also earned a lifetime supply of free McDonald’s, so he’s not without awards already. (Though he’d probably take a new contract over unlimited McGriddles.) The Senators have more on “The Hamburgler” here.

Letang, 28, overcame the greatest odds physically. He suffered a frightening stroke last season – and has dealt with plenty of more traditional injuries over the years, including unfortunate concussion issues – only to post possibly the best season of his NHL career in 2014-15. Check out more from the Penguins, including some heartfelt quotes from the Penguins.

All three players present inspirational stories, but only one will bring home the Masterton this year.

WATCH LIVE: Tonight’s Stanley Cup Playoff action

Tanner Glass, Tim Gleason
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The second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs begins in earnest on Thursday, with one very familiar matchup and one being quite fresh.

First off, we have Game 1 of the Washington Capitals – New York Rangers series, which is taking place at Madison Square Garden. While these teams facing off almost feels like a rite of spring (or summer?), it could have a different feel with two new bench bosses. You can watch on NBCSN and stream via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Next, we have just the second-ever playoff meeting between the Anaheim Ducks and the Calgary Flames (Anaheim prevailed in seven games back in 2005-06). Game 1 is in Anaheim. NBCSN also covers this one, while you can watch online via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Auston Matthews, 17, makes some history with USA Hockey

Pavel Zacha, Auston Matthews
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By playing in an exhibition game for Team USA against Austria at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, Auston Matthews made a small chunk of history. He’s the first player to get a look at that level before even being draft-eligible, as SI.com’s Alan Muir notes.

The 17-year-old managed to score in the 4-1 U.S. win against Austria, according to Team USA’s rundown. That same summary notes that Matthews is headed home from the tournament, so perhaps it was just a tantalizing glimpse into the future.

Muir does a great job summarizing Matthews’ recent accomplishments, which might be delightful fodder for those who are already wondering if their team needs to tank in 2015-16 (those people are probably out there, after all):

No matter how he fares, it’ll be another entry in one of the most impressive résumés ever written for an American-born prospect. Playing as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program this season, the 6′ 2″, 194-pound Matthews broke Patrick Kane’s single-season scoring record with 55 goals and 116 points in just 60 games. He also stood out as a double-underager with the Americans at the 2015 World Juniors, tallying three points in five contests.

(Obviously he did OK, even if he’s headed home.)

The question, really, becomes how do you find a rhyme scheme to promote tanking for Matthews? Pile on for Auston, maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoff TV schedule for tonight

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
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The first round ends with one last Game 7, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings in a decisive match. Here’s the pertinent information …

Red Wings at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (with pre-game at 6:30 p.m. ET)

As Mike Babcock notes, neither one of these teams has won two straight games in this series, so at least that train of logic benefits Detroit.

The Lightning aren’t totally inexperienced when it comes to Game 7’s as a franchise, but they haven’t seen one since the new regime took over. There’s plenty of pressure on GM Steve Yzerman and especially head coach Jon Cooper to finally win a playoff series. Promising progress or not, patience might wear thin in some quarters if they go 0-for-2 in postseason rounds.

Detroit obviously boasts a ton of veteran experience, including that of head coach Mike Babcock. The rumors swirling around his future with the organization will persist either way, but if the Red Wings lose tonight, those questions (and maybe some drama?) will surface a lot sooner.

It all shapes up to be an intriguing and unpredictable Game 7, which makes for a fitting way to end a fantastic first round.

Visnovsky hopes to return to Isles, if his body allows it

Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders
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It was a turbulent season for New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, and it ended with a big bump in the form of that thunderous hit by Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson:

Much like his teammates, Visnovsky told New York Newsday’s Arthur Staple that he was angry and upset about that hit, but also believes he could have played if the Isles advanced to the second round.

Things get a little juicier regarding whether he’ll ever play for the Islanders – or maybe another NHL team – again, as he heads toward unrestricted free agency.

Many hardcore hockey fans are aware that the 38-year-old is one of the more injury-prone players in the league. “Lubo” seems to understand this, as he noted to Staple.

“I want to play, but sometimes my body doesn’t work …” Visnovsky said. “I have all summer to think about it.”

If he does, Visnovsky said he wants to return to the Islanders, a team he believed had a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the Isles have to ask themselves if they’d want the aging blueliner back, especially since they’re hoping to build toward that goal of winning it all. It’s not at an easy choice, but as Visnovsky would likely agree, there’s plenty of time to mull over such decisions.