PHT staff picks: Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup?

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As introduced in our first-round predictions, the PHT staff is comprised of myself (Mike Halford), Jason Brough, Joe Yerdon, James O’Brien, Ryan Dadoun and Cam Tucker.

You may recognize us from such articles as “Sidney Crosby’s hourly health update” and “yes, another Bryzgalov post!”

Today, we’re here to give you our Stanley Cup champion picks for the 2013 playoffs.

But there’s a wrinkle! Rather than use the comments section to insult our picks/manhood, we challenge you, the PHT reader, to submit your Stanley Cup champion pick too.

Those that get it right will receive a cookie (Note: legal issues might prevent us from actually giving you the cookie. It’ll probably be more like a symbolic biscuit.)

Anyway, here we go…

Jason Brough: Pittsburgh Penguins

I have to preface my selection with this: I count eight, maybe even nine, teams that wouldn’t shock me if they won the Cup. So when I say the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to win the Stanley Cup, I am fully prepared to be wrong. Just as wrong as I was last year when I picked the Pens and they got embarrassed by the Flyers in the first round. My theory is Sid and company will take something from that experience and apply it to this year’s effort. It’s not a particularly unique theory, but whatever, I’ll probably be wrong anyway.

Preseason pick: Boston Bruins

Joe Yerdon: Los Angeles Kings

I’m taking the Kings over the Rangers in the finals. It’s a reverse of what I picked in the preseason. I think both teams are trending up going into the playoffs. Yes, Chicago and Pittsburgh are beastly, but no one is unbeatable. Picking the teams with the best starting goalies in the playoffs makes me feel a little better about going out on this limb.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

James O’Brien: Los Angeles Kings

The hottest team in the NHL is in the West, but it’s not the Chicago Blackhawks. The Los Angeles Kings possess a little bit of everything: two capable goalies, plenty of versatile forwards and an appealing set of defensemen. They’ve also possessed the puck more often than anyone else lately. Look for the defending champs to top one of the East’s deepest, most versatile teams in the Bruins to complete the repeat.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

Ryan Dadoun: New York Rangers

When we did our preseason predictions, I took the New York Rangers and I’m stubbornly sticking with it. They’ve had problems, but so did the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12. The Rangers bolstered their top-nine forwards at the deadline while simultaneously making their team more physical. They still have potential playoff heroes in Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, and most importantly Henrik Lundqvist. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve been hot lately.

Preseason pick: New York Rangers

Cam Tucker: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins just have too much depth. And look out for when Sidney Crosby makes his return from a broken jaw. He was by far the best player in the NHL this season until his injury, and it won’t take him long to return to that form once he comes back to the lineup. Look for Marc-Andre Fleury to exercise the demons that haunted him in last year’s first-round loss to Philadelphia.

Preseason pick: N/A

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

What the ‘Hawks accomplished this season is remarkable. They won 75 percent of their games. They finished with a plus-53 goal differential. They only lost seven times in regulation. Their longest losing streak was two games. Sure, sure, but that’s all regular-season stuff, you say — except that the ‘Hawks head into this postseason built largely around the core of the 2010 Cup-winning side. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson all have a wealth of postseason experience, and you could argue the team’s one weak spot — goaltending — is better now than it ever has been during the Joel Quenneville era. Now all they have to do is avoid the Presidents’ Trophy curse…

Preseason pick: St. Louis Blues

PHT Morning Skate: Duchene’s sticking to business; Tavares’ character

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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.

• The subject of intense trade speculation, Matt Duchene is just trying to go about his business. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Isles’ stand up for John Tavares after his character is called into question by former NHLer. (Sportsnet)

• Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon talks Don Cherry amongst other things in interview. (News & Observer)

• Filip Zadina to get an opportunity in Detroit after the trade deadline. (Detroit Free Press)

• What will the Chicago Blackhawks do at the trade deadline? (NBC Sports Chicago)

Ilya Kovalchuk would be a Kings’ treasure for another team. (Rotoworld)

• The Rangers’ rebuild is one no one is talking about. (Yahoo Sports)

• Speaking of the Rangers, should they keep Kevin Hayes? (Blue Seat Blogs)

Wayne Simmonds to the Boston Bruins would still be the latter’s best option. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Low-risk, high-reward trade might be the best course of action for the Golden Knights come Monday. (Sin Bin Vegas)

• Despite his struggles, Devan Dubnyk hasn’t lost the confidence of those around him. (Star Tribune)

• A new wave of black players ready to make an impact in the NHL. (NHL.com)

• When Tiger Woods, Hootie, a future MSU hockey coach and Lord Stanley’s chalice crossed paths in East Lansing. (The Detroit News)

• The key to the Islanders’ defensive success. (The Point)

Aleksander Barkov, the NHL’s best-kept secret. (Panther Parkway)

• Discipline is an issue that must be addressed by the Sharks down the stretch run. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• The inside story of Arizona State University’s hockey team’s meteoric rise. (The Score)

• Finally, a look at how they made the rink for this Saturday’s Stadium Series game (8 p.m. ET; NBC) at Lincoln Financial Field:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Kane’s streak hits 19 games

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha

This edition of three stars will consolidate a would-be top six into three. Go ahead and play some thematic Judas Priest.

While the Red Wings fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Blackhawks, Mantha was the most impressive part of a great effort by Detroit’s top scorers. Mantha generated a whopping four assists, also firing a robust seven shots on goal. The massive winger’s really been assertive lately, as he’s fired 20 SOG in his past three games. Even Alex Ovechkin thinks Mantha’s being a handful for goalies, right?

(As a bonus, three of Mantha’s four assists were primary ones.)

Dylan Larkin probably ranks as the real second star, but let’s just mention him in the Mantha entry. Larkin scored two goals and one assist, and actually topped Mantha with nine SOG. Lakin now has 58 points in 60 games, leaving him just five away from last season’s career-high of 63.

Andreas Athanasiou rounded out that dominant output from that top Red Wings line with two goals, including the one that sent that game to OT.

2. Carl Soderberg

You have to grasp straws to make much of a difference between the most productive Avs of the night, as both Soderberg and Tyson Jost enjoyed one-goal, two-assist Wednesday evenings as Colorado crushed Winnipeg 7-1.

Soderberg’s numbers are slightly better, though. Soderberg’s plus/minus (+4) was one up from Jost’s +3, and Soderberg fired five SOG to Jost’s 3.

If the likes of Soderberg and Jost can take the heat off of top scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, that the Avalanche become pretty scary. (That combo was pretty deadly in their own right on Wednesday, though.)

3. Erik Gustafsson

It’s tempting to name Patrick Kane as the third star of the night, at least while “Breaking the Law” here with actually-a-more-than-top-three.

Let’s consider this the last double-starring, then, because Gustafsson generated more points (three, all assists), while Kane scored two nice goals, including a swaggery OT-winner.

We’ll get deeper into Kane’s honestly kind of mindblowing achievements later on, so this seems like a nice opportunity to note that the Blackhawks have unearthed another gem in Gustafsson. The 26-year-old somehow has 41 points in just 58 games this season. While his 12 goals come from some luck (11.4 shooting percentage, which is very high for a defenseman), you can also clearly see that he’s a slick, creative player.

Gustafsson’s assist on Kane’s OTGWG illustrates that, so enjoy these highlights:

The Swede is now the first European-born defenseman in Blackhawks history to break the 40-point barrier in a single season.

Highlight of the Night

The Nate Schmidt goal that sent Bruins – Golden Knights into OT probably takes the cake for the best goal of Wednesday, but enjoy the full highlights of that game for your trouble:

Questionable hit

Should Cal Clutterbuck receive supplementary discipline for this hit?

Factoids, Kane on fire edition

Patrick Kane didn’t just extend his point streak to 19 games, he did it with aplomb. Kane scored two goals against the Red Wings, including the overtime game-winner.

When you think of a 19-game point streak, you probably picture quite a few games where a player barely gets there, like having one hit during an epic baseball streak. Instead, Kane keeps knocking it out of the park; he has an astounding 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points. That’s more than he managed during a longer 26-game point streak earlier in his career, when he managed 40.

There are other ways to break up Kane’s red-hot streak. He also has an 18-game road point streak going; only six different players have enjoyed longer road-runs.

Kane’s now at 350 goals for his career, and his 920 points is the most for a U.S.-born player through their first 12 seasons.

Scores

CHI 5 – DET 4 (OT)
COL 7 – WPG 1
CGY 4 – NYI 2
BOS 3 – VGK 2 (SO)

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 increase chances of home-ice with 7th win in a row

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The Boston Bruins are pushing to begin the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with home-ice advantage, likely against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even if that doesn’t pan out, at least the Bruins have been red-hot on the road, too.

It wasn’t easy, but the Bruins made their four-game road trip a perfect one by slipping by the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in a shootout. This pushes the Bruins’ current winning streak to seven games, and they’ve also generated at least one point in 12 consecutive contests.

Boston generated two one-goal leads in Wednesday’s game, but the pace was often frenetic, and the Golden Knights refused to go down without a fight. This splendid Nate Schmidt goal sent the contest beyond regulation:

The Bruins were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty during the overtime period, but Patrice Bergeron made some key plays and Jaroslav Halak cleaned up the rest to force the contest to what would end up being a lengthy shootout.

Ultimately, the Bruins won, and strengthened their lead over Toronto for the Atlantic’s second seed, although the Maple Leafs hold games in hand.

Bruins: 36-17-8, 80 points in 61 games, 34 ROW
Maple Leafs: 36-19-4, 76 points in 59 GP, 36 ROW

The Maple Leafs would need to win their two games in hand to tie the Bruins from a points perspective, while they’d lead in ROW even if both of Toronto’s wins came via shootouts. That could very well happen, but this Bruins surge certainly increases the odds of a potential Game 7 taking place in Boston instead of Toronto. For all we know, that could make an impact on what is setting up to be a fantastic first-round series.

Boston made a significant tweak on Wednesday by trading Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-rounder for Charlie Coyle, possibly strengthening their depth in the process. This outcome reminds the hockey world that they’ve been pretty outstanding even when their top-end players have to do most of the heavy lifting.

More on that Coyle – Donato trade.

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.

Sabres GM fires down talk of firing coach Housley

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Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill gave head coach Phil Housley the “vote of confidence” on Wednesday.

In an interview with reporters including The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington and The Athletic’s John Vogl, Botterill said that he is not looking to make a coaching change.

“We’ve made progress as an organization compared to last year. We’ve been in a position where we’ve been in games,” Botterill said. “I see the results on the ice. I see the communication that we’re going through here. There’s not going to be a coaching change.”

No doubt about it, there are Sabres fans who are frustrated with a team that looks like it will see a playoff drought extend to eight seasons. Buffalo also hasn’t won a playoff series since 2006-07, having lost in the first round in their two postseason appearances since.

Still, Housley hasn’t exactly had a ton of time to turn things around.

That 10-game winning streak and brief spell at the top of the NHL’s standings raised expectations, so seeing Buffalo trail eight-seed Columbus by six points stings. It’s probably not much comfort that the Sabres have already exceeded last season’s 62 points by generating 63 standings points in 59 games.

Such an improvement comes from a lowly point, no doubt, but it’s fair to argue that Housley might deserve one more season.

This is only Housley’s second campaign with the Sabres, and it’s tough to ignore the instability this organization has struggled with. Housley joins Dan Bylsma, Ted Nolan, and Ron Rolston as the fourth coach the Sabres have hired since dismissing mainstay Lindy Ruff in 2013. Botterill’s also only been in place since 2017, so a big front office change would serve as a pretty sudden swerve.

On one hand, you don’t want to keep doing something that isn’t working, and plenty will argue that the Sabres would be guilty of exactly that if they stuck with Housley behind the bench.

On the other hand, when you look at some of the most troubled organizations in sports, a big chunk of them seem to keep changing regimes. For all the benefits that can come with new methods and voices, it can be rough on players, whether that means useful contributors getting shipped out for the sake of change, or merely incumbent players having to learn new systems and connect with new coaches.

With Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin leading the charge, there seems like some light at the end of the tunnel for Buffalo. Like it or not, it seems like Botterill is giving Housley more time to prove that he can be the vehicle who can transport this franchise out of that darkness.

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.