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I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Flyers tie series; Penguins might dodge bullet with Letang

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Update: Kris Letang returned to Game 2 and played quite a bit in the third period. We’ll see if anything changes, but his return to action is the best news of the night so far for Pittsburgh.

That’s because the Flyers bounced back from a 7-0 loss in Game 1 in a big way. Brian Elliott and Sean Couturier enjoyed big bounce-back nights in Game 2, powering Philly to a 5-1 win. Now the first-round series is tied 1-1 as it shifts to Philadelphia.

Stay tuned for more on that contest.

Here’s the potential Letang injury:

Sidney Crosby wasn’t happy about the hit.

***

One big selling point for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they aim for a “threepeat” is that they’ve had a healthy Kris Letang in the lineup. That might not last through Game 2 of the first round.

In a truly strange collision, Letang collided hard with Claude Giroux. Giroux seemed to check on Letang immediately afterward, Letang exited the ice right away. It’s a bit puzzling that Letang seemed to be focused on his hand after the hit, but that’s at least how things looked after initial replays.

Video of the collision is coming soon. In the meantime, observe it in GIF form:

So far, Letang has not returned to Game 2 for the Penguins as they try to fight back from a 2-0 lead for Philly.

One of the plays of the game happened in the second period, as Brian Elliott stopped Sidney Crosby on a breakaway. It’s early, but Elliott’s currently authoring a remarkable rebound.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri suspended three games

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety isn’t messing around so far in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After giving Drew Doughty a controversial one-game suspension, the league was pressed into action on an uglier-looking infraction by Nazem Kadri. They responded in kind, handing the Toronto Maple Leafs center a three-game suspension for his hit on Tommy Wingels of the Boston Bruins.

So, that translates to Kadri being out Games 2, 3, and 4. If he’s back during this series, it will be because Toronto takes at least one game. Here’s the league’s explanation video:

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Bruins already dominated puck possession as Game 1 went along with Kadri in the lineup. Now Mike Babcock must cope with tough questions about how to react to that 5-1 loss without a versatile, agitating player.

This makes it that much tougher to, say, move Auston Matthews away from the Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line without suffering even more. That said, it was also an egregious hit by Kadri, who has a history of such decisions and was really running around as Game 1 went along, also delivering a questionable knee-to-knee check earlier on in the contest.

Harsh or not, the NHL is sending a message early on during these playoffs.

[Everyone’s still upset with NHL Department of Player Safety]

Last night, Keith Jones said that Kadri deserved to be suspended “a minimum of three games.” It turns out that Jones hit the nail right on the head.

The Maple Leafs take on the Boston Bruins on Sunday. You can catch the game on NBC, with puck drop coming at 8 p.m. ET.

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.

Crucial Ducks goalie Gibson back vs. Sharks for Game 1

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Heading into the first round, it was tough to get a bead on the Anaheim Ducks because of injuries.

That’s not just the case because of all the games Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler (among others) missed during the regular season. Goalie John Gibson missed Anaheim’s final three games with an upper-body injury, and there were worries that he would be sidelined for Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks tonight.

NHL.com’s Dan Arritt reports that Gibson will indeed be in, backing up speculation from reporters including the Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens.

If healthy, Gibson could be a huge difference-maker for the Ducks.

The 24-year-old netminder stood as such in 2017-18, holding down the fort when the Ducks were especially besieged by injuries early in the season. The American-born goalie set career-highs despite some excellent under-the-radar work earlier in his career, winning 31 games and sporting a fantastic .926 save percentage.

On paper, he boasts just about as much potential to swing a series as any goalie in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Of course, there’s the concern that he won’t be at 100 percent.

Randy Carlyle is justified in rolling the dice because of how excellent Gibson is. That said, he also has the luxury to deploy one of the most proven backups of this postseason if Gibson does suffer a setback. Ryan Miller is an experienced goalie at 37, and despite that advanced age, he’s enjoyed one of his best seasons in quite some time, generating an outstanding .928 save percentage in 28 appearances.

Miller also heads into the postseason with his head held high, as he generated a 31-save shutout in his most recent appearance and is riding a four-game winning streak.

This “Battle of California” between the Sharks and Ducks is very tough to call. For all we know, Gibson could be the deciding factor in the series.

Click here for a preview of Sharks – Ducks.

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.

Boucher, Chiarelli, and a year of strange NHL decisions

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This has been a tough year for those who want NHL teams to hold people accountable for baffling, terrible decisions.

Jim Benning is still the GM for the Vancouver Canucks. The Detroit Red Wings are bloated with hideous contracts, yet Ken Holland just received a contract extension. Marc Bergevin continues to learn the wrong lessons with the Montreal Canadiens as P.K. Subban aims for another deep playoff run for Nashville. There was some logic to the Carolina Hurricanes essentially firing Ron Francis, but after seeing this string of decisions, it makes that choice seem awfully arbitrary.

Thursday provided the latest slew of head-scratchers.

In maybe the worst call of all, the Edmonton Oilers announced that Peter Chiarelli will remain GM despite a parade of cringe-inducing trades.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson addressed the future in a puzzling press conference on Thursday. You can watch the full deal in this clip:

Oilers Nation transcribed it by way of fans feelings and emoticons:

Yep, just about right. The early indications are that the Oilers will stick with Todd McLellan as head coach, that they might not trade Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, and that off-season changes might lean toward the incremental rather than the monumental.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for those who seek a meritocracy, and for Oilers fans who’ve endured jokes about Taylor Hall, Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and other traded players who’ve flourished outside of Edmonton. There’s always the possibility that Chiarelli & Co. will learn from their mistakes, yet we’ve also seen many examples of NHL GMs “doubling down” on previous errors by handing out faulty extensions, refusing to cut their losses with waning talent, and maintaining a wrong-minded vision of what it takes to succeed.

More than a few people (raises hand) believe that the Oilers largely squandered Connor McDavid‘s entry-level contract. Instead of finding a GM with higher odds of surrounding a generational, spellbinding talent with the supporting cast he needs, the Oilers seem content to cross their fingers that Chiarelli will … suddenly figure things out.

Yikes.

The feeling that teams are acting irrationally only increases when you consider Guy Boucher’s predicament with the Ottawa Senators.

One can quibble with Boucher – there’s a sentiment that, while he can bring out early returns, his style might wear thin quickly – yet he’s not even a full 12 months removed from helping a flawed Senators team come within an overtime goal of landing in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Boucher isn’t the one who handed out bad contracts like the Bobby Ryan deal, yet Senators GM Pierre Dorion admits that he hasn’t decided if he’ll bring the bench boss back for 2018-19.

Even if Dorion brings Boucher back, he seems to hand out an ultimatum:

Wow. That’s really something considering that, while Dorion has the excuse of the Senators working under a budget, there are genuine questions about whether he deserves to be back.

A lot of this seems unfair and irrational, but maybe that’s just life and sports.

(At least we can enjoy the second night of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a time when we celebrate teams that tend to make more smart decisions than foolish ones. If nothing else, this is all good news for those teams.)

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.

Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen begin playoffs as scratches

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Hype won’t always protect you from being a healthy scratch.

When it comes to some prominent late-season additions to potential Stanley Cup contenders, a spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed. That’s something Ryan Donato is experiencing with the Boston Bruins, and the same can be said of prized Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen. While NHL coaches are prone to throwing fastballs, it sure looks like those two young scorers will sit out Game 1 for their respective teams.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato the bigger surprise?

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Donato won’t be in the lineup, with Brian Gionta and Nick Holden also being out.

Donato probably has more reason to be irritated by the snub than Tolvanen. For one thing, Donato’s a little older at 22 (Tolvanen is just 18, he’s turning 19 on April 22). Donato’s already shown serious potential by scoring nine points in 12 games despite sometimes-limited ice time.

Also, Riley Nash is unable to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, so one might argue that the Bruins could find a spot for Donato. Take a look at the B’s projected bottom two lines, via Haggerty:

Danton Heinen / Noel Acciari / David Backes
Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Overall, the Bruins deserve a lot of credit for diving in feet-first with young players. They didn’t hesitate to put Charlie McAvoy in a prominent role right off the bat during last season’s playoffs, and guys like Heinen have been given opportunities to prove themselves.

Maybe this is a bit of a correction in that area, especially since the Bruins will face a team that can really exploit mistakes in the high-powered Maple Leafs. (Of course, the natural counterpoint is that you’d want more firepower on the ice to out-gun Toronto, in which case Donato would make a ton of sense).

For what it’s worth, Donato seemed to take a healthy attitude toward a healthy scratch, according to what he told Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald.

“I’m just going to keep working hard, and whenever they need me and my number is called, I’ll be ready to go,” Donato said. “I don’t really take it as an insult. I’ll just take it that the team has been good all year.”

Tolvanen a work in progress

While Donato’s been scoring at an impressive rate, things haven’t “clicked” yet for Tolvanen in the NHL.

The young Finn failed to score a goal or an assist through three regular-season games before getting scratched during the final two contests. Tolvanen’s only logged 36:20 of ice time so far at this level, generating his three shots on goal in his third game. In his first two contests, he didn’t even get a puck on net. To little surprise, his possession stats have been putrid over that tiny sample.

Tolvanen has only been with the Predators since late March, and this Nashville team was loaded without him. Consider that Scott Hartnell and a Calle Jarnkrok joined Tolvanen as potential scratches for Game 1 (though it’s worth noting that it seems like Jarnkrok is a little banged-up). Do note that, while Donato’s confirmed to be out, there’s an outside chance Tolvanen does play. It just seems improbable.

[Morning Skate: how will Predators deal with Nathan MacKinnon?]

In an ideal world, Tolvanen would have been able to gain more traction before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs began, but considering the fact that they lost Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala during last year’s run, Nashville can attest that injuries could open the door for the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Peter Laviolette said, according to the Tennessean’s Adam Vignan. “If anything, last year proves that more than ever. … We’re probably going to need everybody.”

***

These aren’t the easiest calls regarding Donato and Tolvanen. These aren’t just rookies vying for time; these are players who haven’t been with the Bruins and Predators for very long.

Still, the fears of them making mistakes against attacking opponents like the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche could be countered by the perks of getting more talent on the ice. Ultimately, their coaches will probably end up deploying them, especially if each squad enjoys deep playoff runs.

Thursday’s schedule

Lightning vs. Devils, 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA
Predators vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Ducks vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET – USA

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.