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2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round matchups

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Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Season series: Montreal 3-0-0, New York 0-2-1

This one’s been locked in for a while, with Montreal claiming the Atlantic Division crown and the Rangers locking up the Eastern Conference’s first wild card berth a few days ago. This will mark the first time these two Original Six foes have met in the playoffs since 2014, when the Rangers upended the Habs in the Eastern Conference Final.

That series is perhaps best remembered for the start of the Carey PriceChris Kreider feud. Price suffered a playoff-ending injury on a crease collision with Kreider in Game 1, and exacted a measure of revenge when the two teams met early in the following season.

Watch Rangers vs. Canadiens live on the NBC Sports app

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Season series: Ottawa 4-0-0, Boston 0-3-1

This marks the first time the Sens will face the B’s in a playoff series. Ottawa’s back in the dance after missing last year, while Boston returns following a two-year postseason absence. There’s not a ton of history here, but both enter with some compelling storylines — the Sens, under first-year head coach Guy Boucher, overcame losing Clarke MacArthur to a concussion suffered during the preseason, and were without No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson for long stretches while his wife underwent cancer treatment.

Boston, meanwhile, pulled it together after the midseason dismissal of head coach Claude Julien, and rallied under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Several pieces of the ’11 Cup-winning squad still remain — Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, most notably — and it’s worth mentioning that one of the few Cup winners on the Ottawa roster is Chris Kelly… who won it all six years ago with the B’s.

Watch Bruins vs. Senators live on the NBC Sports app

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Season series: Washington 1-1-1, Toronto 1-1-1

All the pressure versus no pressure, really. The Caps head into the postseason as the NHL’s top team, boasting an absolutely loaded roster — which includes the blockbuster trade deadline acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk — and firmly in year two of GM Brian MacLellan’s two-year Stanley Cup window.

Simply put, the time in now for Washington.

For Toronto, this season was supposed to be about building for the future. But the future arrived early. The Leafs are in the playoffs after a miraculous turnaround, which saw them go from the worst team in the NHL to one of the league’s most entertaining squads. Three of the club’s top four scorers — Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — are all rookies, and will make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs live on the NBC Sports app

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Season series: Columbus 2-1-1, Pittsburgh 2-1-1

The Blue Jackets are going to the playoffs for just the third time in franchise history, but will face the Penguins for the second time in three years. Back in ’14, Columbus lost 4-2 to Pittsburgh in the opening round, but the series provided some unforgettable moments at Nationwide, including a pair of OT victories (one of which was Columbus’ first-ever postseason win).

For most of this season, Pittsburgh was a popular pick to repeat as back-to-back champion, but those predictions took a hit when No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang was lost for the year with a neck injury. Letang was a vital cog to last year’s Stanley Cup win, and he’ll be undoubtedly missed. How that absence plays out against Columbus will be a focal point of the opening round.

Watch Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on the NBC Sports app

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Season series: Chicago 4-1-0, Nashville 1-4-0

This has turned into a pretty healthy playoff rivalry, and will be the third series between the two in the last seven years. Chicago enjoyed another terrific regular season — 50 wins, 109 points — and now looks to get back to another Stanley Cup Final, after bowing out in the opening round to St. Louis last season. The ‘Hawks have never lost a series to the Preds, and they’ll aim to keep that streak going.

Nashville’s had an up-and-down campaign, and it’ll be interesting to see if that trend carries over to the postseason. Something worth keeping an eye on? The Preds were dynamite at home this year, posting a 24-9-8 record at Bridgestone, but weren’t great on the road. No playoff team had a worse away record than Nashville’s 17-20-4 mark.

Watch Blackhawks vs. Predators on the NBC Sports app

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Season series: Minnesota 2-2-1, St. Louis 3-2-0

The big storyline here will be Blues head coach Mike Yeo going up against his former club. The Wild fired Yeo last February after five years at the helm, but he wasn’t unemployed long — St. Louis hired him four months later as the coach-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, who was in his final year behind the bench.

Yeo’s ascendancy happened quicker than expected. Blues GM Doug Armstrong fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1, and the team quickly righted the ship under Yeo, eventually finishing third in the Central Division (thanks in large part to the improved play of goalie Jake Allen).

The Wild have an interesting coaching angle of their own. Bruce Boudreau, who was fired by Anaheim after crashing out in the opening round last year, has done a terrific job in his first season in Minnesota. The Wild won 49 games and racked up 106 points, to finish as the second-best team in the Western Conference.

Watch Wild vs. Blues on the NBC Sports app

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

Season series: Anaheim 4-1-0, Calgary 1-4-0

This one was decided late — very late. Anaheim waited until the final night of the regular season to secure top spot in the Pacific Division and for that, they’ll face a fairly familiar foe in Calgary.

The Ducks and Flames met in the second round of the ’15 playoffs, with Anaheim breezing to a relatively easy 4-1 series win. As mentioned above, the Ducks were a major disappointment last year — losing in Round 1 to Nashville — and shook things up by firing Boudreau, and hiring Randy Carlyle. Carlyle is, of course, the same coach that led Anaheim to its first and only Stanley Cup championship back in 2007.

For the Flames, first-year bench boss Glen Gulutzan has one mission: Win a game in Anaheim. It’s been an incredible 11 years since Calgary last tasted victory in Orange County. Given the Ducks have home ice advantage, the Flames will have to win at least one game at Honda.

Watch Ducks vs. Flames on the NBC Sports app

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks

Season series: Edmonton 3-1-1, San Jose 2-3-0

The NHL’s longest playoff drought is over, as Edmonton will go dancing for the first time since 2006. Led by potential Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid and workhorse netminder Cam Talbot, the Oilers now get to face off against… the defending Western Conference champs.

On paper, a tough draw.

But on the ice, this has all the makings for a really intriguing series. Aside from McDavid’s playoff debut, there’s also Todd McLellan factor to consider. McLellan took the job in Edmonton after an incredibly successful seven-year run in San Jose. He’s still the club’s all-time leader in wins.

Health will be a big factor for San Jose, as both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture were hurt late in the season.

Watch Oilers vs. Sharks on the NBC Sports app

The Buzzer: Garland, Raanta help Coyotes roll; Capitals stay hot

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Three Stars

1. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

The Arizona goaltender earned his first shutout of the season and 12th of his career with a 31-save performance during a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Power play goals from Derek Stepan and Jakob Chychrun helped power the Coyotes to their fourth win in five games. The win puts them now one point behind the Oilers for the Pacific Division lead.

2. Braden Holtby, Capitals

The Capitals netminder was kept busy during a 5-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Holtby made 32 saves, which included 25 stops in the final 40 minutes. Washington has now won their last seven games that Holtby has started and 10 of their last 11 with him in net. He also passed the 25,000 career minute mark to join Olaf Kolzig as the only goalies in franchise history to hit that number. John Carlson picked up two assists and now has 11 multi-point games this season.

3. Conor Garland, Coyotes

Garland was one of three Coyotes with multi-point nights (Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz the others) as he netted a goal and an assist in the victory. He now has three goals in his last four games is up to 10 goals and 14 points through 22 games this season. In 47 games a year ago, Garland recorded 13 goals and 18 points.

Hathaway ejected for spitting

A late second period melee sparked by a Brendan Leipsic hit on Derek Grant saw several fights break out as Chandler Stephenson scored. Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway ended up tangled with Erik Gudbranson and was given a five-minute match penalty for spitting at the Ducks’ defenseman. Hathaway could face further punishment from the NHL in the form of a fine or suspension.

Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019 inducted

Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Hayley Wickenheiser, Sergei Zubov, Jerry York, and Jim Rutherford were inducted Monday night in Toronto.

Highlights of the Night

Alex Ovechkin was left open in his favorite spot on a power play. Guess what happened next?

• Sweet spinning pass from Dvorak to set up Garland’s goal:

• With the game in Arizona, the Coyotes decided to troll the Kings by unveiling a Taylor Swift banner (backstory here). How did that go over with LA? Well…

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Capitals 5, Ducks 2
Coyotes 3, Kings 0

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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.

Capitals’ Hathaway ejected for spitting on Ducks’ Gudbranson

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as combatants were being separated in the aftermath of a heated brawl, Erik Gudbranson gave Garnet Hathaway another punch and received something he didn’t expect in return.

Hathaway spit on him and was thrown out of a feisty matchup Monday night he and the Washington Capitals won 5-2 against Gudbranson and the Anaheim Ducks. Hathaway said he regretted the loogie that could spark further punishment from the NHL in the form of a fine or suspension, and the Ducks were spitting mad about the entire incident.

“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”

Hathaway was given a match penalty for spitting in the latter stages of the fracas late in the second period. Gudbranson got a 10-minute misconduct, Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie was also ejected for being the third man into a fight and a total of 50 penalty minutes were doled out.

“These games can get physical and they can get nasty,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “These guys’ll throw down, drop their gloves, that stuff goes on in the game, but what I saw there I haven’t seen – I think I’ve been in pro hockey 30 years maybe – and I’ve never seen that before. It’s just something you don’t see in the game.”

After some off-and-on hostilities in the first 39 minutes, Washington’s Brendan Leipsic incited the brawl by bulldozing Anaheim’s Derek Grant just before Chandler Stephenson scored to make it 3-0 Capitals with 33.4 seconds remaining in the second. Almost all 10 skaters on the ice got involved, and Hathaway fought Gudbranson, Grant and Ritchie in a matter of minutes.

Officials were attempting to separate players when Gudbranson rabbit-punched Hathaway, who then spit in his face with referee Peter MacDougall a few feet away. Officials checked the video before confirming a five-minute match penalty and game misconduct on Hathaway for spitting, which carries an automatic ejection.

“Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went onto him,” Hathaway said. “It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle had been agitating much of the night, almost dropping the gloves with Tom Wilson and tripping up Leipsic in various incidents. It all paved the way for the brawl.

“It just escalated,” Guhle said. “It for sure was in the works. There were scrums all night. Guys were going after each other. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

The fighting and Hathaway spitting overshadowed the NHL-leading Capitals winning their second in a row and picking up at least one point for the 14th time in 15 games. Alex Ovechkin scored his 254th career power-play goal, Richard Panik, Stephenson and Jakub Vrana also scored, Wilson sealed it with an empty netter and Braden Holtby made 32 saves for Washington.

“He’s tremendous,” Ovechkin said of Holtby. “He’s working hard. Of course, everybody has ups and down, but his game right now is definitely up.”

Ducks goaltender John Gibson made several spectacular saves to keep his team in the game. Gibson stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced, losing for the 10th time in 17 starts despite third-period goals from Sam Steel and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“We need him,” Eakins said. “We’re a team in transition.”

Anaheim is also an angry team after seeing Hathaway spit on Gudbranson.

“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody,” Grant said. “We’re all competing out there and sometimes the game gets that way. As a group, I thought we did a good job sticking up for each other. That’s a tough one to swallow.”

Unexpected hat trick gives Ducks’ Grant rare opportunity

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If you weren’t expecting Anaheim Ducks forward Derek Grant to record a hat trick this season — as he did in the Ducks’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night — you weren’t alone in that thought.

That thought also extended to his closest friends and resulted in a friendly wager over the summer that now gives the Ducks’ forward an opportunity to name a childhood friend’s first-born child.

Grant first mentioned it during a between periods interview on Saturday, and expanded on it on Monday.

From the Ducks’ Adam Brady:

Another buddy had suggested that if he made a hole-in-one the next day on the links he should be allowed to name the baby.

“My one friend said he should get to name it if he gets a hole-in-one that day golfing,” Grant recalled with a chuckle. “I’m not quite as good a golfer, so he made it real for me if I get a hat trick this year, I’d get to name his first child.”

Grant added that even though his friend’s fiancee was a little skeptical of the idea at first, the couple is fully on board with him naming their child.

This probably seemed like a safe bet for his friend to make because before Saturday Grant had scored just 18 goals in 228 career games and had only scored two goals in a game once. He played 92 NHL games before scoring his first career goal during the 2017-18 season.

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.

 

Hurricanes’ Haula out with more knee issues

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A couple of years ago the expansion draft process gave Erik Haula an opportunity to get an increased role with the Vegas Golden Knights.

He took advantage of that opportunity with a breakout season that saw him score 29 goals and become a key part of one of the most improbable Stanley Cup Final teams ever.

It has been a tough road for Haula in the two seasons since due to injuries, and now his first year with the Carolina Hurricanes is being sidetracked by more knee issues.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour announced on Monday that Haula is “going to be out for a while” and that he does not think the forward will be playing anytime soon due to continued issues with his knee. Haula had recently missed four games this season due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee before returning to the lineup on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. He played in each of the Hurricanes’ past two games, logging 27 minutes of total ice time in a more limited role.

Haula was originally injured a little more than a year ago when an awkward fall during a game in Toronto resulted in him being stretchered off the ice. He did not play another game for the Golden Knights and was traded over the summer in salary cap-clearing deal.

He was off to a great start this year with eight goals in his first 16 games with the Hurricanes. That total has him just one goal off the team lead where he trails Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Dougie Hamilton (all three have nine goals, while all three have played in all 20 games so far).

This is a tough injury for both the Hurricanes as a team and for Haula on a personal level.

First, the Hurricanes are losing one of their most productive forwards and a player that had already seemed to be a perfect fit in their lineup. His addition was a huge boost to their forward depth and so far everything had been working exactly as planned for a team that has its sights set on becoming a championship contender.

As for Haula himself, he is currently in the final year of his contract and given the way he has produced the past three years when healthy he was playing his way toward what could be a fairly significant raise this summer, whether it was with Carolina or another team. There is obviously still a chance he can return at some point this season and pick up where he left off, but the short-term outlook is definitely concerning.

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.