Jason Brough

For Wild, no Parise affects ‘every area of the game’

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DALLAS (AP) Patrick Sharp is getting ready to face Minnesota in a playoff series for the fourth year in a row. It will be the first for the Dallas Stars, the franchise with roots in the Twin Cities.

Known as the North Stars before moving south to Dallas in 1993, the Stars are the top seed in the Western Conference. They open their first-round series at home Thursday night against the Wild, the team that eventually replaced them in Minnesota.

“I’m sure it means something to the fans,” Stars center Jason Spezza said. “For us as players, it’s a little different generation for us, we weren’t directly involved in it.”

Spezza and Sharp were acquired in trades the past two offseasons, and with the high-scoring young All-Star duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin helped lead Dallas to its first No. 1 seed since consecutive Stanley Cup appearances in 1999 and 2000.

The Wild, in their 15th season since entering the NHL as an expansion team, are hurting going into their fourth consecutive playoff appearance. Top scorer Zach Parise (25 goals) won’t even travel for the first two games because of an upper-body injury that has kept him off the ice for more than a week.

“It changes lines and the combinations we have and special teams. In every area of the game, it will have an effect,” center Mikko Koivu said. “But if he’s in, if he’s not, then we’ve got to react to that as a team and go from there.”

The Wild will also be without Thomas Vanek (18 goals) while Erik Haula, a solid third-line center who defends well, will likely be a game-time decision.

When the Stars won their only Stanley Cup title in 1999, they beat Buffalo and Lindy Ruff, now their third-year coach. Sharp was part of his third Stanley Cup championship last season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Stars won four of five meetings this season against Minnesota, three in overtime along with a 6-3 win that included two empty-net goals – among the Stars’ NHL-record 24 empty-netters and NHL-best 265 goals overall this season. Minnesota’s victory was 2-1.

But the last of those games was Feb. 9, before the Wild fired Mike Yeo and named John Torchetti the interim coach.

“Their defense is involved a little bit more … Offensively, I think they’ve got a little bit more giddy-up and go in them,” Ruff said. “There’s going to be some structure changes for them and there might be personnel that are in or out. The playoffs, I wipe the slate clean and you start from Game 1.”

SEGUIN SKATING: All-Star forward Tyler Seguin was back on the ice this week after missing Dallas’ last 10 games because of a small cut of his left Achilles tendon. Seguin had 73 points in 72 games before getting hurt. Ruff said Wednesday that Seguin was available to play, but that a decision for Game 1 wouldn’t be made until Thursday. Seguin and Benn (89 points) are the NHL’s highest-scoring teammates over the past two seasons.

A pending UFA, Bruins’ Eriksson in wait-and-see mode

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The Boston Bruins decided not to trade Loui Eriksson at the deadline. Now, after missing the playoffs, it’s very possible they’ll have to watch him walk away for nothing.

Eriksson, 30, is a pending unrestricted free agent who’s coming off a 30-goal season. There’s already speculation that a team like Vancouver could be interested.

“I feel good about where I am in my game,” Eriksson told CSN New England. “It’s a big decision, where I end up. So, we’ll see what’s going to happen this summer. I had three great years [in Boston], and we’ll see what’s going to happen here this summer. That’s all I can say.”

Because he’s now on the wrong side of 30, a major factor in whatever deal Eriksson signs will be term.

From the Boston Herald:

It’s not impossible that some team might go to five years and $30 million — which would likely be too much for the Bruins’ taste. But it does seem probable that general manager Don Sweeney will make a serious offer. It’ll then be up to Eriksson whether he wants to stay, or chase the bigger bucks of the open market.

If Eriksson leaves, it could make it very important that the B’s sign Harvard free-agent winger Jimmy Vesey — who conceivably could step into Eriksson’s role.

There are a handful of other pending UFA wingers that may — repeat: may — be available this summer, including 26-year-old Mikkel Boedker and 27-year-olds Milan Lucic and Kyle Okposo.

Andrew Ladd and Troy Brouwer, both the same age as Eriksson, could also end up hitting the market.

Related: Salary cap estimate for next season falls to $74 million, with one notable assumption

Series odds: Flyers are biggest underdogs of first round

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The Philadelphia Flyers may have finished the regular season on a 17-6-4 run, but they’re still the biggest underdogs of the first round of the playoffs, according to online sportsbook Bovada.

If you bet $100 on the Flyers to upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, you’d stand to win $240. If, on the other hand, you like the Caps, you’ll have to risk $280 to win $100.

The defending champion Blackhawks, meanwhile, only have a 50/50 shot of getting past the Blues, according to Bovada. Both teams have the same odds (-110) of advancing to the second round. Chicago-St. Louis is the only series that doesn’t have a favorite.

First-round series odds

Philadelphia Flyers (+240)
Washington Capitals (-280)

Detroit Red Wings (+130)
Tampa Bay Lightning (-150)

New York Rangers (+150)
Pittsburgh Penguins (-170)

New York Islanders (+135)
Florida Panthers (-155)

Chicago Blackhawks (-110)
St. Louis Blues (-110)

Minnesota Wild (+230)
Dallas Stars (-270)

San Jose Sharks (+125)
Los Angeles Kings (-145)

Nashville Predators (+160)
Anaheim Ducks (-180)

Odds to win the Stanley Cup

Capitals 4/1
Kings 7/1
Blackhawks 15/2
Ducks 17/2
Stars 17/2
Penguins 9/1
Blues 10/1
Rangers 16/1
Panthers 16/1
Sharks 18/1
Lightning 20/1
Predators 25/1
Islanders 25/1
Flyers 28/1
Red Wings 33/1
Wild 33/1

Related: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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This is the fourth straight year (2013, 2014, 2015) we’ve done this. We’ve only been wrong three times out of 48. Try and find more accurate NHL predictions than that. 

Minnesota Wild: The worst team to make the playoffs. There is absolutely nothing the Wild do really well, unless you count driving their coaches insane, which they do amazingly well. The worst thing for their poor fans is that it’s only going to get worse. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Suter are all on the wrong side of 30. And on top of an aging core with big money and big term still left on their contracts, they’ve got a very mediocre collection of prospects. Good luck with that.

New York Rangers: There’s nothing wrong with your goalie being your best player, but it’s kind of a problem when your goalie is your best player and he’s playing awful. Henrik Lundqvist’s save percentage was .906 in March and .895 in April. That’s not good. Combine that with the loss of Ryan McDonagh, then add to the equation the Rangers are among the worst puck-possession teams in the league, and you’ve got the formula for a very early exit.

Philadelphia Flyers: A.k.a. this year’s Ottawa Senators, who only lasted six games last year. Look, the Flyers had a great late-season run. They made the playoff race interesting, and for that hockey fans should be thankful. But this remains a seriously flawed roster, especially on the back end where Shayne Gostisbehere can’t do it all. Also remember that the Flyers’ record wasn’t as good as it looked. They only won 27 times in regulation, which is one fewer than Buffalo, Winnipeg, and Arizona managed. Were the Sabres, Jets, or Coyotes good? No, they were not good.

Detroit Red Wings: This team hasn’t been a legitimate contender since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and it sure isn’t now. The Wings qualified for the playoffs with a minus-13 goal differential. The only other team that qualified with a negative number was the aforementioned Flyers, at minus-4. Newsflash: it wasn’t just the money that convinced Mike Babcock to leave last summer. He saw the future in Detroit, and it wasn’t bright without Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. Yes, Dylan Larkin has franchise-player potential, but he’s the only one, and you need more than one franchise player to win the Cup.

Dallas Stars: It’s too bad, because Stars games are fun to watch. They score lots of goals. They allow quite a few, too. And therein lies the problem. Teams like the Stars don’t win the Cup. It’s like their own coach says — too much “pond hockey.” For all the Stars’ talent, they’re in desperate need of a Selke Trophy-caliber forward.  You know, like in 1999, when they had Jere Lehtinen and it was impossible to score on them. Defense wins championships. You might have heard that phrase a billion times or so.

Florida Panthers: Anybody who was surprised that the Panthers made the playoffs wasn’t paying attention to basic roster construction. Aleksander Barkov is a stud center and Aaron Ekblad is a stud d-man. Those are your two most important building blocks, and Florida could easily win the Cup in a few years. But it won’t happen this year, because the young part of the core isn’t ready yet. Truly elite teams dominate all facets of the game, and the Panthers don’t do that on a consistent enough basis. That’s the next step, and this playoff experience will help. (OK, we were way too nice to the Panthers here, so here’s a little joke: What do you call a sellout crowd in Sunrise? Answer: Home-ice advantage for the Habs.)

San Jose Sharks: Another “surprise” playoff team that wasn’t really a surprise. The Sharks have a talented top six and a deep defense. They’ve also got two capable goalies, now that James Reimer is in the mix. The obvious knock on the Sharks is their history of choking in the playoffs. Because if you haven’t heard, they have a real reputation for choking in the playoffs. Like in 2009, when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and choked in the first round. Or in 2010 and 2011, when they made it to the conference finals and choked each time. Or especially 2014, when they had a 3-0 lead on the Kings and choked. It’s almost like this core has proven time and time and time and time again that it doesn’t handle the pressure well.

St. Louis Blues: Speaking of choking. At least the Sharks’ core has managed to win a few rounds. The Blues have been eliminated three straight years in the first round. There are plenty of theories about this team’s postseason failures, but here’s the best one — there’s no elite center. David Backes isn’t one. Paul Stastny isn’t one. Jori Lehtera isn’t one. Alex Steen isn’t one. Those guys are all decent, sure, but when was the last time a team won the Cup without an elite center? On second thought, maybe the Blues are just chokers. Chokers, without an elite center.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Less than a year after nearly winning it all, it’s obvious the Bolts’ problems go beyond the loss of Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. Make no mistake, losing those two guys is huge. But this team hasn’t seemed right all season. Just the absolute stinkers they’ve had. It’s been really bizarre. “We have the guys,” Stamkos said a couple of weeks ago, following their latest no-show. “I believe in them and we’ve got to start believing in ourselves.” A couple of days later came the news that he was done for 1-3 months. The Lightning then finished with just one win out of four. Which wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.

Nashville Predators: Remember when the Preds used to be a good defensive team? Because they’re not really a good defensive team anymore. They don’t check with the same intensity, they’re not as responsible structurally, and the result is a goals-against average that ranks 14th in the NHL. Even teams like the Islanders and Flyers allowed fewer goals than the Preds did this season. Some of that is on Pekka Rinne, who finished with a .908 save percentage, but if the Preds think they’re talented enough to outscore lax defense and/or bad goaltending, they’re seriously mistaken. This franchise needs to find its identity again.

New York Islanders: The problem with the Isles isn’t a lack of good players. They’ve got plenty of good players. The problem with the Isles is a lack of great players. In that category, only John Tavares qualifies. Now compare that to the Blackhawks, who’ve got at least four future Hall of Famers on their roster. Heck, compare that to the Islanders’ Cup-winning teams of the 1980s, who sent five players to the Hall. Oh, and another problem with the Isles is that Thomas Greiss is currently their starting goalie. Yeah, that’s a pretty big problem right there. That problem should’ve gone first.

Anaheim Ducks: A couple of years ago, Ducks GM Bob Murray was asked what was missing from his roster. He replied, “You watch the Kings and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar. Do we have a defenseman who can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had [Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.] That’s in the back of my mind all the time. Where is that guy, can you find that guy, and can you afford that guy?” Unfortunately for Murray, the answer has been no. The best they’ve got right now is Cam Fowler, and he’s far from Doughty. Or Duncan Keith. Or Zdeno Chara. You know, the kind of number-one defensemen who win Cups. The Ducks should try and find one of those, because they won’t win anything until they’ve got one.

Los Angeles Kings: How much ice time can Drew Doughty handle? We’re about to find out, because the Kings still haven’t replaced Slava Voynov. Assuming Alec Martinez is healthy – and that’s no guarantee for Game 1 – they’ll enter the postseason with just three defensemen that can be trusted: Doughty, Martinez, and Jake Muzzin. In effect, Luke Schenn may have to be their Voynov. Yes, the same Luke Schenn who used to get healthy scratched in Philly. And if it’s not Schenn, the choices are Brayden McNabb, who’s totally unproven in the playoffs, or Rob Scuderi, who’s 37. Bottom line: there is no way Darryl Sutter is confident with the depth of his defense. And he shouldn’t be. It’s not deep at all.

Pittsburgh Penguins: “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” That’s a quote from Mike Tyson, and it perfectly sums up the Pens. Lest we forget, these guys have gone into the postseason feeling good about their chances before. More often than not it ends badly. Like, really badly. Since 2009, no team in hockey has lost its collective mind like Pittsburgh in the playoffs. The Penguins, as they’re keenly aware, were supposed to be a dynasty. Maybe that’s why they’ve had so much trouble maintaining their composure. It’s all those expectations, balled up like a fist, ready to start punching them in the mouth.

Chicago Blackhawks: The easiest team to count out. The ‘Hawks won’t win the Cup because it’s too hard to repeat in the salary-cap era. It hasn’t been done yet, and the salary cap’s been around since 2005. The ‘Hawks know this. They’ve tried and failed twice. The closest they got was in 2014, when they still had some gas left in the tank after their lockout-shortened title in 2013. But their tanks are empty now, and their play down the stretch was proof of that. After peaking in January, they finished the season 11-10-5. Defensively, they were plain bad at times. Expect an early exit for the defending champs.

Washington Capitals: The Caps have everything going for them right now. After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy, they’re locked and loaded for their first Cup in franchise history. Just like in 2009-10, when they were locked and loaded and lost in the first round. The year before that, it was the Sharks who ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy, only to lose in the first round. The year after, it was the Canucks, who made it all the way to the finals before running into injuries and a hot goalie. The Caps are 4/1 betting favorites to win the Cup. That’s encouraging in a way, but it also means there’s a significantly better chance that they won’t win. For the majority of Presidents’ Trophy winners, the playoffs have only led to heartbreak.

Here are PHT’s first-round playoff predictions, featuring a virtual coin

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Once again in 2016, there’s no “Miracle on Manchester” potential in the NHL playoffs. The widest point discrepancy between first-round opponents is 24, between the Capitals and Flyers. Dallas and Minnesota, separated by 22 points, is the only other wide spread. In six out of the eight series, the discrepancy is seven points or fewer.

And that right there is our excuse, should we need one. First-round predictions in today’s NHL are hard.

With that in mind, we’d like to welcome Just Flip A Coin to this year’s proceedings. Last year, the 1972 Eisenhower Dollar went an impressive 11-4 and was thrown into the ocean for embarrassing the humans.

Washington Capitals versus Philadelphia Flyers

Brough: Caps in 7
Halford: Flyers in 7
O’Brien: Caps in 5
Dadoun: Caps in 6
Tucker: Caps in 6
Alfieri: Caps in 5
Just Flip A Coin: Flyers

Florida Panthers versus New York Islanders

Brough: Panthers in 7
Halford: Panthers in 6
O’Brien: Panthers in 6
Dadoun: Panthers in 6
Tucker: Panthers in 6
Alfieri: Panthers in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins versus New York Rangers

Brough: Penguins in 7
Halford: Penguins in 7
O’Brien: Penguins in 6
Dadoun: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Penguins in 6
Alfieri: Penguins in 6
Just Flip A Coin: Rangers

Tampa Bay Lightning versus Detroit Red Wings

Brough: Wings in 6
Halford: Lightning in 6
O’Brien: Lightning in 7
Dadoun: Wings in 7
Tucker: Lightning in 7
Alfieri: Lightning in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Wings

Dallas Stars versus Minnesota Wild

Brough: Stars in 5
Halford: Stars in 6
O’Brien: Stars in 5
Dadoun: Stars in 6
Tucker: Stars in 5
Alfieri: Stars in 4
Just Flip A Coin: Stars

Anaheim Ducks versus Nashville Predators

Brough: Ducks in 5
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Dadoun: Ducks in 5
Tucker: Ducks in 7
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Just Flip A Coin: Predators

Chicago Blackhawks versus St. Louis Blues

Brough: Blues in 7
Halford: ‘Hawks in 6
O’Brien: Blues in 6
Dadoun: Hawks in 6
Tucker: Blues in 7
Alfieri: ‘Hawks in 7
Just Flip A Coin: ‘Hawks

Los Angeles Kings versus San Jose Sharks

Brough: Sharks in 6
Halford: Sharks in 7
O’Brien: Kings in 6
Dadoun: Sharks in 7
Tucker: Kings in 7
Alfieri: Kings in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Sharks