The Morning Skate: What’s next in wild series?

News and notes entering tonight’s Stanley Cup Final showdown in Chicago.

Game 5: Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (watch on NBC or live online) – Series tied, 2-2

For the fourth time in the last five years – and 23rd time since the best-of-seven playoff format was introduced in 1939 – the Stanley Cup Final is knotted at two games apiece after four games. (It is also the 10th time that each team has won at home and away in the first four games of a Cup Final series.) The team winning Game 5 has gone on to win the Cup 15 of the 22 previous times, adding weight to tonight’s Game 5 at the United Center.

There were as many goals scored in regulation (10) of Game 4 as the first three games of the series combined, before Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook ended it 9:51 into overtime, his second OT-winner of the postseason. Tuukka Rask’s home shutout streak reached a franchise-record 193:16, but then the Bruins goaltender proceeded to allow six goals for only the second time in his career. His league-leading goals-against average rose from 1.64 to 1.83 in the game. After giving up five goals, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford’s GAA climbed from 1.74 to 1.86.

After combining for one assist in the first three games playing on separate lines, the Blackhawks’ reconstructed top line of Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane broke out in Game 4, combining for two goals and three assists. The Hawks improved to 3-0 all-time in the playoffs when Toews and Kane each scored a goal. On the flip side, the Bruins’ third line of Daniel Paille – Chris Kelly – Tyler Seguin, which lay behind three of four Boston goals in Games 2 and 3, were held off the scoresheet. Patrice Bergeron had two goals, his third and fourth of the series, which leads all skaters.

No major lineup changes are expected on either side for Game 5. Marian Hossa, who played 19:07 in Game 4 after being scratched the game before with an undisclosed injury, missed Friday’s practice, but will play. Nick Leddy, who had career-lows of four shifts and 2:37 ice time in Game 4, should also see an increase in ice time. Judging by Friday’s practice at TD Garden, the Bruins are expected to insert Carl Soderberg on the fourth line with Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton, in place of Kaspars Daugavins. The Swedish first-year winger, who had two assists in six regular-season games, would be making his NHL postseason debut. You might recall that earlier this postseason, B’s defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug scored their first-career NHL playoff goals without having tallied a regular-season goal. Krug did so in his playoff debut.

DID YOU KNOW?

The cumulative overtime played in three games this series is 75:47. That is already the second-most overtime played in a Stanley Cup Final series, after the 1931 Final (Chicago vs. Montreal, 78:40), and the most played in any postseason series since 2008 (Dallas vs. San Jose, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 78:19).

DID YOU KNOW?

Jaromir Jagr, who became the 21st player (and 19th skater) to appear in 200 playoff games, assisted on both on Patrice Bergeron’s goals in Game 4 and now has 199 career postseason points. Jagr has waited 21 years and 21 days since his last goal in the Stanley Cup Final, but with ten assists, he reached double digits in points for the tenth time in postseason play. That is tied for the fourth-most in NHL history.

Player

# of seasons w/ 10+ points

Seasons

Career single-season high

Wayne Gretzky

14

1980-1997

47 (1985)

Mark Messier

14

1980-1997

34 (1988)

Jean Beliveau

11

1954-1971

22 (1971)

Jaromir Jagr

10

1991-2013

24 (1992)

Glenn Anderson

10

1981-1996

27 (1987)

Paul Coffey

10

1981-1999

37 (1985)

LINKS

·         Corey Crawford not worried about his ‘weak’ glove side [Yahoo]

·         Tuukka Rask the ultimate straight shooter [Boston Herald]

·         Jaromir Jagr’s career coming full circle in Boston [ESPN]

·         No letter on sweater, Brent Seabrook emerging as Blackhawks’ natural leader [CBC]

·         Patrick Sharp flying under the radar as goals leader [Chicago Sun-Times]

·         Blackhawks trying to treat Zdeno Chara as invisible man [SportsNet]

·         VIDEO: Bruins fans gather to wish team luck in sendoff [NESN]

·         Jaromir Jagr’s Cup pursuit keeps fans in Prague awake [New York Times]

 

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.