Mike Halford

at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
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Here are five goalie dramas to watch in the playoffs

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A quick look at some of the most intriguing netminding scenarios for the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Fleury’s health, Murray’s health

Marc-Andre Fleury missed the end of Pittsburgh’s regular season with a concussion.

His backup, Matt Murray, was knocked out of the final game following a collision with Philly’s Brayden Schenn.

This, of course, is not how the Pens wanted to punctuate an otherwise terrific ending to the year. Third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff was forced to finish off the Flyers game — a 3-1 loss, snapping an eight-game winning streak — and while Fleury did return to practice on Monday, it’s unclear if he’ll be ready when the Pens open their series against the Rangers on Wednesday.

While his playoff performances have been erratic in recent years, Fleury is still incredibly battle tested — of all active NHL netminders, he sits second in wins (53) to Henrik Lundqvist.

As such, the Pens are definitely hoping he’s healthy, especially since Murray is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Allen vs. Elliott

In what’s become an annual rite of passage in St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock was forced to choose a Game 1 playoff starter — it’ll be Brian Elliott facing Chicago, getting the nod over the previously-injured-but-now-100-percent-healthy Jake Allen.

But, in what’s also become a rite of passage for the Blues, things could change.

In their previous four playoff appearances, the Blues have had four different starting goalies: Elliott, Allen, Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak. It’s been something of a revolving door, though Elliott has remained the constant.

Last year, Hitchcock started Allen over Elliott in St. Louis’ opening-round series against the Wild (even though, a month earlier, Hitch said Elliott would be the guy). The decision came under scrutiny after Allen looked shaky over the final two games of the series, and got hooked in the decisive Game 6.

The problem for St. Louis doesn’t lie with who’s named the starter, though. It’s what happens afterward. Given the all the mind changing, it’s tough for the No. 1 to not constantly be looking over his shoulder.

What will Boudreau do?

For Game 1 versus Nashville, John Gibson looks to be the Anaheim starter.

But, much like in St. Louis, things can change.

Back in March, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau might employ a playoff goalie rotation between Frederik Andersen and Gibson.

Andersen was the guy for Anaheim last spring, playing every minute of every game en route to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Yes, his play in that Conference Final was spotty — he gave up 18 goals over the final four games versus Chicago, and finished the series with a .901 save percentage — but that experience could prove invaluable.

There’s little doubt Gibson is the club’s goalie of the future, but he’s still just 22 years old and doesn’t have a huge postseason resume. Boudreau went to him during the ’14 playoffs for a brief spell, four games all told, and Anaheim was bounced in the second round by L.A.

Crease conundrums are nothing new in Anaheim, of course.

During that ’14 run in which Gibson made his postseason debut, Boudreau started three different goalies — Andersen, Gibson and Jonas Hiller — which proved to be an awkward situation in the blue paint.

Crease conundrums are nothing new for Boudreau, either.

His penchant for flip-flopping predates his time with the Ducks. In Washington, he yanked Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov during the 2009 playoffs; a year later, after vowing “there is no short leash” for Theodore, Boudreau yanked him in favor of Varlamov.

Again.

What will BB do this time around?

Crawford’s health

In Chicago, there’s some concern about the health of Corey Crawford. The two-time Stanley Cup champ returned from a three-week absence — believed to be a head injury — to play in Saturday’s season finale, a sloppy 5-4 OT loss to Columbus in which Crawford allowed five goals on 25 shots.

Which begged the question: Is Crawford ready for the playoffs?

Head coach Joel Quenneville says yes.

Despite that assertion, Crawford will be one to watch. Do remember that, last year, he was hooked and briefly replaced by Scott Darling in the opening round against Nashville.

Of course, Crawford then reclaimed the No. 1 gig in that same series, and went on to backstop the ‘Hawks to the title.

Howard vs. Mrazek

Last year, Petr Mrazek was named starter for Detroit’s opening-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.

This year?

Head coach Jeff Blashill wasn’t confirming anything on Monday, but all signs pointed to Jimmy Howard:

This isn’t a huge surprise, given Howard was the man for Detroit down the stretch, starting the final seven games.

But one has to think the door is open for Mrazek. Howard did close out the year with consecutive losses, and Mrazek’s big coming out party happened against the Bolts last year, when he finished the series with a .925 save percentage.

Bonus 6th drama: Dallas!

This one is still TBD, as Stars head coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t decided between Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi. From the Dallas Morning-News:

On if he’s decided yet on a starting goalie for Game 1

“I like the way both our goalies have played. Right now I don’t have a bad decision. There’s not a wrong decision, but these guys have both played well and they’ve both played well down the stretch. There’s probably a chance both guys will play.”

On if he’ll name a starting goalie prior to Game 1

“No.”

Neither goalie has been great this year, but Niemi could get the nod based solely on postseason experience. He has a Stanley Cup and over 60 games on his resume, while Lehtonen has never been out of the first round and has just eight playoff games to his credit.

 

Sharks sign goalie prospect Armalis, who had ‘a number of NHL suitors’

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 18: Mantas Armalis #59 of Djurgarden Hockey skates against Linkoping HC at Hovet Arena on February 18, 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Interesting move out of San Jose on Monday, as the Sharks announced they’ve inked Mantas Armalis to an entry-level contract.

“Mantas had a number of NHL suitors and we are excited that he chose San Jose,” GM Doug Wilson said in a statement. “We’ve been following his progression up the ranks in Sweden over the last few seasons and he has consistently performed at every level.

“He has a history of playing above his age group internationally, and we’re looking forward to him joining our organization.”

Armalis, 23, is an intriguing figure.

Aside from his work as a Versace model, he made waves for Swedish Hockey League club Djurgardens this year, posting the sixth-best save percentage in the league.

He’s also done well internationally, helping his native Lithuania capture bronze at the 2015 World Division 1B championship, while capturing Best Goaltender honors.

That San Jose landed Armalis — ahead of a number of reported suitors, including the Leafs — is also intriguing.

The club’s depth behind No. 1 netminder Martin Jones consists of minor leaguers Aaron Dell, Joel Rumpel and Troy Groenick. Wilson, of course, hasn’t drafted many goalies — just three (Mike Robinson, Jake Kupsky, Frederik Bergvik) in the last seven years — and has a history of success prying talent out of the Swedish and Finnish leagues, like Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson.

The Armalis signing could also mean the Sharks’ current backup, James Reimer, will opt to test free agency and try to land a starting gig elsewhere next season, rather than battle Jones for minutes.

Let’s look at the many, many key injuries heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) reacts after the New York Rangers scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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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 players hurt heading into the postseason?

Because there are a lot of them.

A lot.

• Let’s start in Tampa, where captain and former 60-goal scorer Steve Stamkos is out 1-3 months following vascular thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The procedure, which removed Stamkos’ upper right rib, was conducted on Apr. 4 and, according to the doctor that performed the surgery, Stamkos would be re-evaluated “in about two weeks.”

That would put the re-evaluation around Apr. 18, and Game 4 of the Bolts’ opening-round series with Detroit is on the 19th. There is hope a speedy recovery process would allow Stamkos to return at some point during the postseason, possibly as early as the second round.

• Let’s stick in Tampa, where veteran defenseman Anton Stralman is out indefinitely with a fractured left leg. A 22-minutes-per-night guy that’s among the Bolts’ best possession d-men, Stralman is a valuable right-handed shot, on a blueline that doesn’t have many. So needless to say, it’s a big loss.

Neither the club nor Stralman has ruled out a return, but there’s no timeline for it.

“Who knows? There’s definitely going to be a few weeks, it’s a fractured bone,” he said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “It has to heal. I hope I’ve got good healing powers, otherwise I’ll blame my dad.”

• Pittsburgh’s also dealing with injuries to a star center and valuable defenseman.

Evgeni Malkin, out with an upper-body injury, is expected to miss the first two rounds. While Malkin is a major loss — the former Hart and Conn Smythe winner has 111 points in 101 career playoff games — the Pens have thrived in his absence, and won eight of nine to close out the regular season.

On defense, Olli Maatta (lower body), who hasn’t played since mid-March, was back on the ice at practice Monday, a good sign for his pending return. And in equally good news, starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was also at practice. Fleury’s been out of action since Mar. 27 with a concussion.

• In Dallas, star center Tyler Seguin remains sidelined with a lacerated Achilles. The injury occurred in mid-March and forced him to miss the final 10 games of the season. Seguin has said he’ll be back for the playoffs, but the “when” remains unknown — last week, he resumed skating in a limited fashion, but head coach Lindy Ruff said it was too early to comment on whether Seguin could play in Game 1 versus Minnesota.

• The Isles are dealing with a number of injuries at the moment. Starting goalie Jaroslav Halak‘s been out since early March with a groin ailment and, while he’s on target to return by mid-April, it’s hard to envision him getting thrown back into the mix after so much time off.

Minutes-munching defenseman Travis Hamonic is out with a knee injury, versatile forward Anders Lee is out with a broken left fibula and veteran Mikhail Grabovski hasn’t played since Mar. 17 due to a concussion. Of those three, Hamonic seems most likely to return, as he resumed light skating last week.

• The Rangers will reportedly be without captain Ryan McDonagh to start their series against the Pens. McDonagh, who suffered a broken right hand last week, was thought to possibly be out for the entire first round but, over the weekend, Blueshirts head coach Alain Vigneault listed McDonagh as “day-to-day.” Stay tuned…

• Nobody’s really sure what’s going on in St. Louis. Captain David Backes and goalie Jake Allen were shut down for the final three games of the regular season (both lower-body) back in early April. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has since named Brian Elliott the Game 1 starter against Chicago, and Backes wasn’t at practice on Monday.

• It’s unclear if the Panthers, back in the playoffs for the first time in four years, will have captain Willie Mitchell available for selection. Mitchell, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, has been out since January with post-concussion symptoms, but did practice with the team on Monday. There’s also uncertainty about key forward Vincent Trocheck, who is still in a walking boot after injuring his foot on Mar. 30. Trocheck had 26 points in 27 games prior to getting hurt, so his loss is a big one.

• More unknowns out of Anaheim. Veteran d-man Kevin Bieksa hasn’t played since Mar. 24 due to a lingering upper-body issue, while shifty forward Rickard Rakell (appendicitis) has been out since Mar. 28. Rakell is expected to be ready for Game 1, but the outlook for Bieksa is less clear. David Perron, who had 20 points in 28 games after being acquired from Pittsburgh, is out longer term with a separated shoulder.

• Minnesota will open its series with Dallas minus the services of Thomas Vanek, who will be out “more than a week” with an upper-body injury (per interim head coach John Torchetti). Vanek, who finished fourth on the team with 18 goals this year, is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series.

• San Jose has been without shutdown d-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic since Mar. 17. Vlasic, who’s dealing with a MCL sprain, is expected to be ready to start the opening round against the Kings — though there could be a rust factor, given he sat out the final 12 games of the regular season.

• Los Angeles is relatively healthy, but there are some players to monitor. Top-four defenseman Alec Martinez is day-to-day with an undisclosed ailment, yet he did skate on Sunday. Veteran winger Marian Gaborik, out since mid-February with a knee injury, was originally thought to be on track for a playoff return, but now he could miss some of the first round. Tough guy Jordan Nolan had back surgery in early March, and could be done for the year.

• Chicago was without the services of Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw down the stretch, but all returned to practice on Monday.

• What about Washington, you ask? Oh, the Presidents’ Trophy winner heads into the playoffs at 100 percent health, now that Jay Beagle appears ready to dress for Game 1 versus Philly.

Flames parting ways with Hiller

Jonas Hiller
AP
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No huge surprise here, but it is official — veteran goalie Jonas Hiller won’t be back with the Flames next season, per the Calgary Sun.

Hiller, 34, struggled mightily this season after a ’14-15 campaign in which he backstopped Calgary to the playoffs a year ago. He went 9-11-1 with a 3.51 GAA and .879 save percentage, getting sporadic playing time.

In the last of a two-year, $9 million deal, Hiller could be in tough finding NHL work next season. He was largely panned for his body of work this year and — following an ugly 8-3 loss to Anaheim, in which Hiller allowed three goals on five shots — head coach Bob Hartley offered a frank assessment.

“You give them a few freebies from the start, and you know it’s going to be a long game,” Hartley said, per Yahoo. “Our goalies had a tough night. Nothing to take away from the Ducks, but in order to beat them you need a few saves here and there.”

As for Calgary, moving on from Hiller figures to be part of a major overhaul in goal.

Karri Ramo, who suffered a torn ACL in February, said he’s spoken with management — “we’ll see which direction the organization is going to go,” he said — but, given he turns 30 in July and is coming off a major knee injury, he doesn’t look like a long-term option.

Niklas Backstrom, acquired in the David Jones trade, is gone, which leaves Joni Ortio to (presumably) battle with whomever the Flames acquire via trade, or free agency.

The club has been tied to San Jose’s James Reimer (pending UFA) and Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen (pending RFA). But it sounds as though Calgary’s options might expand beyond those two — in March, Flames GM Brad Treliving said the club will “cast a wide net” to find a goalie.

Tavares, Kane, Ovechkin named NHL’s three stars of the week

John Tavares
AP

Star-studded release from the NHL today as the Isles’ John Tavares, the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin were named the three stars for the week ending Apr. 10.

More:

Tavares led the NHL with 4-5—9 in four games to power the Islanders (45-27-10, 100 points) to seven out of a possible 10 standings points and the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Kane shared second in the League with 3-3—6 in three games to guide the Blackhawks (47-26-9, 103 points) to four out of a possible six standings points and the No. 3 seed in the Central Division.

Ovechkin led the NHL with five goals in three games, including his 50th of the season, to help the Capitals (56-18-8, 120 points) close their Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign with a 1-1-2 record in the final week.

Pretty nice finish from Tavares, who played well in March (11 points in 16 games) and April (nine points in five games) to springboard himself into the playoffs.

He and the Isles, of course, are looking to win their first playoff series since 1993 when they take on the Panthers — a series that, due to some scheduling quirks, will feature three games in four nights, including a back-to-back on Thursday-Friday.