Five Q’s: Bruins-Maple Leafs preview

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1) How will James Reimer handle the pressure of his first playoff series?

From Roberto Luongo to Miikka Kiprusoff, there have been rumors since last summer about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ interest in acquiring a goaltender that would likely take the number one gig away from 25-year-old netminder James Reimer. Those trade possibilities never materialized and Reimer ended up having a good season after dealing with concussion issues in his 2011-12 sophomore campaign. However, he has no playoff experience and is being asked to take center stage in front of an excited and hungry fanbase. Getting Reimer some postseason experience now should prove to be very beneficial for him in the long run, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a big question mark heading into this series.

2) Does Boston have anything left in the tank?

Due to postponed contests, the Boston Bruins were forced to play six games in the final nine days of the regular season. On top of that, they were 2-5-2 in their final nine games. Fatigue could be a big factor for the Bruins in the early part of this series and might aide in Toronto’s efforts to at least split the first two contests in Boston. The Bruins’ lack of momentum already cost them the Northeast Division. A quick playoff exit would be a shock — especially at the hands of the Leafs — but the B’s don’t want to give their opponents any extra confidence.

3) Will Zdeno Chara shut down Phil Kessel?

Forward Phil Kessel is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ greatest weapon…except against his old team, the Boston Bruins. Kessel had no points and a minus-four rating against Boston this season, and those numbers don’t get much prettier when you look at his career stats versus the Bruins. So can he put all that behind him and be the difference in this series? On the flip side, what should we expect from Zdeno Chara? Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli admitted to CSN New England that the towering defenseman has been slipping lately and needs “to get his game back.”

4) Will Milan Lucic regain his scoring touch?

Speaking of struggling Boston Bruins’ players, forward Milan Lucic hasn’t exactly had a memorable season. He found the back of the net just seven times in 46 games and even ending up spending some time in the press box as a healthy scratch. At the same time, Lucic has three points and a fight in his last two games, so maybe he’s turned a corner. The Bruins have other offensive weapons, but if Lucic doesn’t perform, that will seriously hurt the potency of their top two lines.

5) Will Jaromir Jagr be a difference-maker?

Jaromir Jagr might be 41 years old, but he’s still finding ways to produce. He had 16 goals and 35 points in 45 contests this season and, most importantly, has shined even while most of his teammates have struggled. Additionally, the fact that Martin Brodeur is the only active player who has been in more postseason contests than Jagr has to be a benefit, even on a team with as much playoff experience as the Bruins. Jagr can’t carry the team, but he could certainly be one of its leaders. All the same, it’s concerning that he’s now played in 34 Czech League games on top of the NHL’s condensed schedule. The fatigue factor that might haunt the Bruins could hit him particularly hard.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

NHL on NBCSN: Alex Ovechkin is as dominant as ever

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Alex Ovechkin appears to be well on his way to leading the league in goals for the eighth time in his career, an accomplishment that would be unprecedented in the history of the sport. As it stands, Bobby Hull as the only other player that has done it at least seven times, while Phil Esposito is the only other player that accomplished it more than five times. Ovechkin’s dominance over his peers is just one of the many things that makes him arguably the greatest goal-scorer to ever play in the NHL.

For as great as he has been, and for as consistently as he has done it, his 2018-19 season might be his best performance yet.

In terms of the overall numbers, it is not going to be his highest goal total, because he has virtually no chance of matching the 65 goals he scored during the 2007-08 season. But it is not the raw numbers that make this season so incredible. It is the fact that he is defying every aging curve that we know that exists for a player in the NHL.

He enters Tuesday’s game against the Devils just two goals shy of reaching the 50-mark for the eighth time in his career (which would be second most in league history, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy), a mark that he is almost certain to hit sooner rather than later this season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 PM. ET – NBCSN]

When he does it, he will be just the fourth player in league history to do so in their age 33 season (or later), joining a list that includes only Jaromir Jagr (54 at age 33 in 2005-06), John Bucyk (51 at age 35 in 1970-71), and Bobby Hull (50 at age 33 in 1971-72).

At his current pace, Ovechkin is on track to score 54 goals this season, which would be tied for the sixth highest total for any player over the age of 30 in NHL history. He is already just one of 13 different players to ever score 50 goals over the age of 30, and is closing in on being just the fifth player to do it twice.

Let us just assume for a minute that he is able to maintain his current pace (because there is nothing over his first 71 games of the season to suggest he will not) and reaches that 54 number. It would be the third-highest total of his career, trailing only the 65 he scored in 2007-08 and the 56 he scored one year later in 2008-09.

There are two things that, arguably, make this performance so much more impressive.

First, obviously, is the age.

He was 22 and 23 years old in 2008 and 2009 and at his peak level of performance as an NHL player. At that point it was expected that he was going to dominate the league from a goal-scoring perspective. Today, he is closing in on his mid-30s, a time in his career where he should be starting to slow down just like every player that came before him did. The great ones like Gretzky, Lemieux, Richard, Esposito, and so on never maintained this type of goal-scoring pace at this age. They all slowed down dramatically by the time they were hitting their mid-30s.

The second is that he is going to end up playing close to 250 fewer minutes this season than he did a decade ago.

He was a 23-minute per night player during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons when he had his two highest goal-scoring performances. This season he is *only* playing just a little more than 20 minutes per game. It may not seem like a big deal, but at his current scoring pace an extra 250 minutes could add up to as many as an additional eight goals for the season. An additional eight goals at his current pace would put him on pace for 62 goals.

Again, he is 33 years old.

Now, nobody should reasonably expect him to log that many minutes at this age, and it would probably be lunacy for someone even as freakish as Ovechkin is to try it. Having your minutes limited because you are older is just one of the many reasons players see their production decline. But the overall point here is to simply put his performance this season into perspective, because it is amazing.

Given that he is once again leading the league in goals, for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, on a team that is once again fighting for a division title, it is kind of surprising he is not getting more play in the MVP debate. Not that he should win it, but maybe just that he should be in the discussion as a potential finalist.

He is still that great.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Flyers, Canadiens looking to keep playoff hopes alive

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Philadelphia Flyers kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Sunday night when they stormed back against the Pittsburgh Penguins, stealing two points with two stunning late goals. It was a game they absolutely had to have if they are going to make up this ground in the Eastern Conference, and they have another game just like that on Tuesday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens.

This one might really be a win-or-be-done type of game for them when it comes to their playoff chances.

They do not just need a win, either.

They need to win in regulation.

The Flyers open the day still six points back of a playoff spot, and trail the Canadiens (who are the first team on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture) by three points. A regulation win would at least bring them back to within a point of the Canadiens, and depending on what happens with the Columbus Blue Jackets in their game against the Calgary Flames, could close the playoff gap to as little as four points.

A loss could be devastating for what is left of their chances, especially if Columbus manages to win in Calgary.

The Canadiens can pull to within a point of the Blue Jackets with a win and a Columbus loss, while it would also pretty much leave the Flyers in their rear-view mirror the rest of the way.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Penguins and Hurricanes meet in a pivotal game in the Metropolitan Division race as they both look to stay out of a wild card spot and what could be a potential first-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Islanders (vs. the Bruins) and Capitals (vs. the Devils) are also both in action as they continue to fight for the top spot in the Division.

In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild have a chance to jump back over the Arizona Coyotes for the second Wild Card spot, while the Calgary Flames can extend their lead in the Pacific Division over the San Jose Sharks after they were blown out on Monday night.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Bruins vs. Islanders (7 p.m. ET)
Canadiens vs. Flyers (7 p.m. ET)
Penguins vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Capitals vs. Devils (7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN- livestream link)
Oilers vs. Blues (8 p.m. ET)
Maple Leafs vs. Predators (8 p.m. ET)
Avalanche vs. Wild (8 p.m. ET)
Panthers vs. Stars (8:30 p.m. ET)
Blue Jackets vs. Flames (9 p.m. ET)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO
• The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth should the Wild lose to Colorado in any fashion.

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Islanders — 100 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 98.2 percent
Hurricanes — 93.5 percent
Canadiens — 20.5 percent
Flyers — 4 percent
Panthers — 0.9 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — 100 percent
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 98.2 percent
Stars — 91.3 percent
Coyotes 48.6 percent
Wild — 29.4 percent
Avalanche — 17.6 percent
Blackhawks — 12.3 percent
Canucks — 1.2 percent
Oilers — 1.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Avalanche — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Wild — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak on injury; Nashville’s Turris problem

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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.

David Pastrnak on his thumb injury: “Obviously I let the guys down a bit. It’s a tough time. It’s not an injury that happened on the ice, so I took full responsibility for that. That’s what hurt me most. Could I have avoided it? I wish [that I had]. But obviously things happen. The fact that I could let somebody down, I definitely hate that. The first couple of weeks were tough.” [NBC Boston]

• Just in time as the playoffs approach, James Neal returns to the Calgary Flames after a 14-game absence, hoping to find his scoring touch again. [NHL.com]

• When the postseason does arrive, who will get the starting gig in net for the Flames? [Featurd]

• A good look at the teams playing well with the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a month away. [TSN]

• Playoffs might be out of reach but the Vancouver Canucks are now acting as a spoiler. [Sportsnet]

• Meet the only female full-time Zamboni driver in the NHL. [ESPN]

• The younger members of the St. Louis Blues are really enjoying this playoff push. [Post-Dispatch]

• The San Jose Sharks are trying not to think too far into the future when it comes to a possible first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights. [NBC Bay Area]

Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy need to give more to the New York Islanders as the playoffs approach. [Islanders Insight]

• Examining who’s chasing and possessing the puck the most for the Columbus Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• The Nashville Predators have a Kyle Turris problem. [A to Z Sports]

• A product of the “Ovechkin Effect” in Washington D.C., the Capitals signed Yale product and local boy Joe Snively on Monday. [Japers’ Rink]

• Which AHL players could step up and make an impact with the Edmonton Oilers? [Oilers Nation]

• Finally, there were a good number of bloopers in the NHL over the last week:

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Smith, Marchessault lead Shark slaughter; Connor helps Jets extend Central lead

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Three stars

1. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are unlikely to catch the Calgary Flames or the San Jose Sharks, but if the Sharks don’t surpass the Flames then both Vegas and San Jose are going to meet in the first round of the playoffs and the Smith and his squad fired the first shot on Monday with a four-point game in a 7-3 win.

Smith had a goal and three assists to help lead the Golden Knights to their third straight win. Smith has 16 points now in his past 12 games and has been on fire since early February.

2. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

See the above preamble, substitute Smith for Marchessault, and you have pretty much the same thing.

Marchessault notched his own four-point game in their win against San Jose, scoring twice and adding two assists. Marchessault now has four goals and two assists in his past two games.

The 28-year-old had one goal in 14 outings prior to his current little heater. He’s well off the 75-point pace he set last season, but if he’s heating up heading into the playoffs, watch out.

3. Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets

When Connor is using his speed, he’s dangerous and he’s a bona fide playmaker.

So when he rushed down the left side of the ice, wrapped the puck around the net and fed it to Kevin Hayes to open the scoring, it was the 22-year-old’s speed that started it all off.

He’d then score a goal just 1:05 later in the game on the power play, using his diminutive frame as a net-front presence, jamming his 28th past Jack Campbell.

The Jets moved three points clear of the idle Nashville Predators and Winnipeg still has a game in hand on their Central Division foes.

Highlights of the night

Jumbo Joe still has it:

Can’t defend this:

Myers picks his corner:

So close…

Factoids

Patrick Kane hit 100 points for the second time in his NHL career on Monday.

Pettersson does it in the arena that he was drafted in:

Scores

Lightning 4, Coyotes 1
Canucks 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Jets 3, Kings 2
Golden Knights 7, Sharks 3


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