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]

 

Rangers put Quinn under pressure to show spending was worth it

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are Broadway’s NHL team, so consider the 2018-19 season a “dress rehearsal” for head coach David Quinn.

Expectations were low for a team that telegraphed a rebuild to the point of sending out a press release, but you can take the training wheels off after the Rangers invested huge money and resources into the likes of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, and Adam Fox.

If this was a video game or fantasy hockey, you’d seamlessly improve with seemingly more skilled players without much fuss. Actually making it all work in reality isn’t always so simple, though, putting Quinn under pressure to make it all come together in 2019-20.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factor]

Let’s consider some of the challenges ahead.

Manufacturing a Bread Line, and managing young guns

The first question falls under “good problems to have,” as Quinn should ponder how to get the most out of Panarin.

As PHT’s Scott Billeck discussed here, one likely combination would involve Panarin lining up with top center Mika Zibanejad, and rookie Kakko. There are plenty of other ways to experiment with Panarin, though, and a lot of those possibilities hinge on which younger forwards can earn significant reps, or even spots on the roster at all.

One could imagine Panarin setting the table for someone like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, or Vitali Kravtsov, much like Panarin undoubtedly helped Pierre Luc-Dubois become a quick study in the NHL during Panarin’s days with the Blue Jackets. It could end up working out best if Panarin and Zibanejad power one line apiece, or it may be better to concentrate that high-end, more experienced NHL scoring talent on a first line.

Along with Kravtsov and others fighting for roster spots, there are also players with something to prove, from Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to someone coming off of a rough stretch like Vladislav Namestnikov.

It’s up to Quinn to mold this intriguing, but somewhat unshapen group into something cohesive. Unlike last season, the raw materials are there for something, even if this group isn’t necessarily primed to be explosive out of the gate.

Getting some stops

The good and bad news is that the Rangers’ defense basically had nowhere to go but up. It won’t be easy to generate the sort of gains that can help the Rangers contend, though.

Jacob Trouba’s getting his wish: he’s the man on that New York defense, no question about it; we’ll see if this is a “careful what you wish for” situation, because if this unit’s going to be any good, it will probably come down to Trouba being the minutes-eating top guy.

Adam Fox has been drawing hype for a while, but what can he be right off the bat? Considering the Rangers’ personnel, they might not be able to ease the 21-year-old into the NHL fray as much as would normally be ideal.

Even with considerable gains, the Rangers will probably continue to do what they’ve done for more than a decade: ask a whole lot from Henrik Lundqvist.

The 37-year-old is coming off of the worst year of his NHL career, as he languished with a .907 save percentage behind that lousy defense. Lundqvist can’t be asked to patch up the same mistakes as he did during his prime, but if the Rangers are going to take a big step forward, they need King Henrik to return somewhere close to form.

If not, that presents another hurdle for Quinn. Can he manage Lundqvist’s ego — and placate those around him — while getting results in net, particularly if it becomes clear that Alexandar Georgiev would be the superior option most nights? That’s a potential instance where problems become as much political as tactical, and answers rarely come easily.

***

Change can come quickly in the NHL, yet even by those standards, the Rangers have undergone a dramatic makeover. Quinn is charged with making sure that things don’t end up looking ugly.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Panarin changes everything for Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The last time a New York Rangers player cracked the 80-point mark in the NHL was a decade ago.

Then, Marian Gaborik was a much younger version of his self and putting up impressive seasons as a marquee player.

Since then, the Rangers haven’t really had that sort of offensive pizazz. That hasn’t always stopped them from having success, of course. But adding a guy who has the potential to hit the 100-point plateau at just 27 years of age could figure in moving that success to the next level.

Being the team playing in an attractive destination and with mountains of cash on July 1 presents a wealth of opportunities in the free-agent market and for the Rangers, it was their lucky year.

Signing Artemi Panarin long-term as he just enters the prime of his career, is the single biggest get of the summer. For any team.

Panarin brings elite scoring to a club that needs it amidst their (now accelerated) rebuild. But Panarin is so much more than just premium point producer.

His possession numbers are off-the-charts good. He’s a responsible player at both ends of the ice, creates more goals than allowed when he’s on in five-on-five situations and creates more high-danger chances than are seen against him. Furthermore, in terms of goals above replacement, Panarin was 10th in NHL this past season.

And this season, Panarin doesn’t bring a bad full of distraction with him.

Last year, questions swirled all year about his future. There will be none of those this time around.

Instead, he’s likely to be paired with Mika Zibanejad and perhaps even Kaapo Kakko in what could be something of a mega line in terms of scoring and shutting down the opposition.

Panarin is that x-factor. He brings so much to a team and he’s now in a position to lead a much younger Rangers team into what appears to be a bright future.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

2018-19
32-36-8, 78 points (7th in the Metropolitan Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Artemi Panarin
Jacob Trouba
Kaapo Kakko
Adam Fox
Greg McKegg

OUT: 
Neal Pionk
Kevin Hayes
Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Spooner
Fredrik Claesson
Connor Brickley

RE-SIGNED:
Pavel Buchnevich

2018-19 Summary

It was understood going into this past season in the Big Apple that by the end of it, the New York Rangers would be on the outside looking in.

A sell-off during the end of the 2017-18 season pointed to a re-build that would likely take a couple of seasons to fully mature.

And thus, the on-ice product for the Rangers was much less about winning games as it was about putting some of their young guns in positions to grow.

Alexandar Georgiev, for instance, was given 30 starts between the pipes as the Rangers let Henrik Lundqvist‘s heir-apparent get well-acquainted with the No. 1 spot he will one day own.

He showed well on a poor team, with the 23-year-old posting a respectable .914 save percentage.

Others, too, were given a chance to develop. The likes of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Tony DeAngelo, 23, Filip Chytil, 19, and Lias Andersson, 20, saw significant action.

Everything was following the simple stream that is a slow rebuilding process. Well, at least until June.

In June, the Rangers found out they’d be picking second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft after moving up four spots from the six-best odds at the draft lottery. Welcome, Kaapo Kakko.

They’d acquire the rights to Jacob Trouba (and eventually sign the blue line stalwart to a seven-year deal.)

And then July 1 came and Artemi Panarin was handed $81 million over the next seven years.

The rebuild that was rolling along at a typical methodical pace suddenly slammed into sixth gear. The Rangers now added a bona fide superstar forward, a potential superstar forward and a top-pairing defenseman to the mix.

General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t messing around, announcing his intentions to the rest of the league with his wallet open wide.

So now, the Rangers have smashed the fast-forward button. There’s no talk anymore about another growing season. Instead, the narrative has shifted to a team that could compete for a playoff spot at minimum, especially if Lundqvist can bounce back and retain his crown as ‘King’ in one final hurrah in his storied career.

The Rangers have kept pace with the New Jersey Devils and their own aggressive summer. The Metro is quite the division — perhaps the best in hockey — and the Rangers should be right back in the mix in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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