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NHL Roundtable: Predictions for new hockey year

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Now that we’ve said goodbye to 2017, it’s time to look ahead at what the hockey world will bring up for 2018. The PHT staff pulled out their crystal balls and have offered up three predictions each for the next 12 months. Please remember us when all of these come true.

SEAN LEAHY

George McPhee stands pat at the trade deadline: The Vegas Golden Knights are exceeding everyone’s expectations but face an uncertain summer with a number of pending unrestricted free agents like James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron. While in any other situation, McPhee might deal them away for assets as the expansion club looks to build a consistent winner, they’re going to go all-in in Year 1 to make the postseason and increase the excitement around the team even more.

Ken Holland moves upstairs: It’s almost perfectly set up for this to happen. The long-time Detroit Red Wings general manager is in the final year of his contract and his team is likely to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, which previously happened in 1982 -83. You also have Chris Ilitch taking over the reins of the organization from his late dad and looking to revamp the franchise. Holland doesn’t get fired, but gets the ceremonial “thanks for all the success, here’s your ‘senior advisor’ position.”

The U.S. women recapture gold at the Olympics: Canada has won four straight golds since the Americans won the first tournament in Nagano in 1998. The U.S. has went home with silver three times, including a heartbreaking loss in Sochi in 2014. Kelli Stack hitting the post late in regulation will serve as motivation for the unfinished business the U.S. women have this time around. Plus, you can bet last spring’s pay dispute led to even tighter knit group, which will help them win gold again.

JOEY ALFIERI

The Pittsburgh Penguins miss the playoffs: The grind of two Stanley Cup runs will finally catch up to them. GM Jim Rutherford is trying to shake up his roster because he clearly feels like his team needs it. Whatever move he makes, I predict that it won’t be enough to get them in.

Max Pacioretty will be on the move before the start of next season: The Canadiens captain is struggling, but he remains a bargain at $4.5 million per season. His contract expires after next season so to maximize his value, the Habs need to trade him soon. I’m going to go ahead and say he’ll be shipped to the St. Louis Blues in a package that involves top prospect Robert Thomas.

Erik Karlsson will be a member of the Dallas Stars before the calendar shifts to 2019: I realize that saying Karlsson won’t be a Senator isn’t exactly bold, but picking the team he’s going to is! The Stars could use a boost on defense and landing the best one in the game is as good as it gets. Marc Methot and Karlsson will be reunited in Big D!

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JAMES O’BRIEN

The Predators win the Stanley Cup: Yes, I’m doubling down. When making this choice before the season, I assumed (dangerously, but successfully) that the Preds would add a key piece. They’ve really flourished with Kyle Turris, now giving them two strong scoring lines, two good-to-strong goalies, and Ryan Ellis permitting, two strong defense pairings.

John Tavares re-signs with the Islanders: Now, I’m not saying that he’ll re-sign with the Isles during the 2017-18 season. He might even dip his toe in the UFA water, at least to test the temperature. But I expect Tavares to stick with the Isles. Now can they truly contend going forward? That’s a tougher question.

Marc Bergevin gets fired: Just in time for him to dig an enormous hole for whoever takes over! That’s the problem with GMs who continue to make mistakes: there’s a “legacy” of moves for the next person to deal with. Montreal needs to pull the Band-Aid off now, before Bergevin trades them into further disrepair.

SCOTT BILLECK

Erik Karlsson is traded: Karlsson, seeing the rubble around him as the Senators continue to crumble, and after the Eugene-Melnyk-threatens-to-move-the-team debacle, decides he’s done in Canada’s capital and wants out. With his pending unrestricted free agent status, and with no choice but to find a return, the Senators trade him.

Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup: Look, it’s a longshot, even given how good they’ve been, but why can’t the magic from the regular season spill into the postseason? They find a way to win games, they score a lot of goals and they have great goaltending (and apparent depth at the position). Perhaps it’s not that crazy of a thought after all.

The NHL adopts puck tracking technology: In a world with pinpoint accuracy when it comes to GPS, the NHL makes the move to puck tracking, which eliminates the long wait times for goal reviews. Fans and scribes alike get a chance to look at shot statistics in a new way, looking at average shot speed, hardest slapshot in a game situation, etc.

ADAM GRETZ

• The Vegas Golden Knights will go deep into the playoffs: They are already on track to be the most successful expansion team ever, and they are not going to stop at regular season success. They are going to win a round in the playoffs, and maybe two. Their success right now is no longer just about hot percentages or strong goaltending like it was early in the year. There is still an element of that in there, but they are also legitimately good. It would take a monumental collapse at this point for them to even miss the playoffs, and there just seems to be enough here that they are going to knock someone off once they get in.

• The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens will make trades they will regret: Probably for very different reasons. The Penguins are having a miserable season and are in danger of missing te playoffs entirely after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. They lost a ton of depth over the summer, did nothing to replace it, and I can not see them going away without doing something this season to try and correct it. Maybe it won’t involve Kris Letang, but there might be a panic trade coming at some point. The Canadiens are in kind of a similar position, only worse. They are having a worse season and they might actually end up trading one of their core players in Max Pacioretty. At a time when his value is at an all-time low.

• Four players will top 100 points this season: I wrote about this a week ago but the slight increase in goal scoring this season has led to the potential return of a nearly extinct player in the NHL — the 100-point scorer. Right now there are a handful of players on track to hit the century mark and I think four of them will end up getting there. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Josh Bailey. What is most notable about this, aside from the fact they all might get there in an era where almost nobody reaches it anymore, is that they are two sets of teammates. There have only been five 100-point scorers in the NHL since 2010-11. The last time a set of teammates did it was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in 2009-10. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin also did it in 2008-09. The last time two different sets of teammates did it in the same season? 1995-96 when the Pittsburgh Penguins had three (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis) and the Colorado Avalanche had Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

PHT 2017 year in review:

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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.

PHT’s Three Stars: Vasilevskiy, Callahan lead Lightning in Game 5

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1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy’s great play continued in Game 5 after a bit of a stumble to start the series. In making 28 saves, he helped the Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. He’s now stopped 100 of the last 106 shots he’s faced. Tampa can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final with a win Monday night in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

2nd Star: Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

Callahan had his biggest game of the playofs with a goal and an assist in the Tampa win. He first assisted on Cedric Paquette‘s opening goal 19 seconds into the game and followed that up with an early tally himself in the second period. His goal, which would end up standing as the game-winner, came just 33 seconds into the middle period.

3rd Star: Dan Girardi, Tampa Bay Lightning

The blue liner logged 19:34 during Game 5 and blocked a game high four shots, including one in the final minute on Alex Ovechkin to help preserve the lead.

[Quick-striking Lightning on verge of Stanley Cup Final berth]

Highlight of the Night:

John Carlson might have nightmares about this save by Vasilevskiy with seconds to go:

Factoid of the Night:

Sunday’s schedule: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream (Vegas leads series 3-1)

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Quick-striking Lightning on verge of Stanley Cup Final berth

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You can’t spot a team a 3-0 lead and expect to win in the playoffs.

And while the Washington Capitals tried desperately to not fall victim to their own undoing earlier in the game, they simply ran out of time in a 3-2 loss on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning now lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 as the series shifts back to D.C. for Game 6 on Monday. Tampa is 7-0 all-time in Washington in the playoffs and has now won three straight in the series after falling behind 0-2.

In the first period and into the second, the Capitals appeared to be the same old disappointing playoff team — they just delayed their arrival this season for an extra round.

[PHT’s Three Stars: Vasilevskiy, Callahan lead Lightning in Game 5]

This does look like vintage Capitals collapse, no?

Giving their opponents a 3-0 lead in just over 20 minutes, including allowing goals at 19 seconds of the first period (Cedric Paquette) and 33 seconds of the second period (Ryan Callahan), isn’t a winning formula.

Nor is your superstar getting exactly zero shots on goal for the first 58 minutes of the game.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin hit the bar earlier in the third period, and once he did get shooting, he found twine on his second shot of the game with 1:36 left and the net empty, but it was all too late in the end.

Tampa is now a team on the verge of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final and the Capitals on the brink of their yearly disappointing exit from the postseason.

A silver lining: Evgeny Kuznetsov keeps producing. But you’re not winning a conference final riding on the back of one player, as Washington is figuring out.

The urgency displayed in the third period from the Caps would be better used spread out over all three periods.

But perhaps most concerning for the Capitals is how Tampa found their stride 5-on-5.

They didn’t manage to win the puck possession battle (as per usual in this series) but they did have a nearly 3-to-1 edge on high-danger scoring chances for at 15-6.

All three of their goals came at 5-on-5 and they didn’t have to rely on their power play to get their offense rolling.

That will be interesting to watch in Game 6. Giving the Lightning a man-advantage was a death sentence. But if they’re scoring 5-on-5 as well, Washington is going to be in a world of hurt.

This isn’t helping either:

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


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

NHL Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals TV Schedule

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The conference finals are now set with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals meeting in the East and the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets facing off in the West. The round to determine who will play for the 2018 Stanley Cup will begin Friday.

Here’s the full Round 3 schedule:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals (Lightning lead series 3-2)

Friday, May 11, 8pm: Capitals 4, Lightning 2
Sunday, May 13, 8pm: Capitals 6, Lightning 2
Tuesday, May 15, 8pm: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Thursday, May 17, 8pm: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Saturday, May 19, 7:15pm: Lightning 3, Capitals 2
Monday, May 21, 8pm: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN
*Wednesday, May 23, 8pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets (Golden Knights lead series 3-1)

Saturday, May 12, 7pm: Jets 4, Golden Knights 2
Monday, May 14, 8pm: Golden Knights 3, Jets 1
Wednesday, May 16, 9pm: Golden Knights 4, Jets 2
Friday, May 18, 8pm: Golden Knights 3, Jets 2
Sunday, May 20, 3pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC
*Tuesday, May 22, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN
*Thursday, May 24, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN

MORE:
PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Paquette sparks quick-start Lightning in Game 5

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It took the Tampa Bay Lightning all of 19 seconds to get themselves into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals.

Yes, the Lightning scored on their first shot on goal as Cedric Paquette took advantage of a neutral-zone giveaway and then some questionable defending by the Capitals in response (and a nifty play by Ryan Callahan).

Tampa has been plagued by slow starts in this series, so getting a goal within the first thirty seconds of the game couldn’t have been scripted much better.

Ondrej Palat scored later in the period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Both of Tampa’s goals also came 5-on-5, which hasn’t exactly been their strong suit in the Eastern final.

Neither team has won at home in this series, but Tampa took two big steps in the right direction in Game 5.

• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals’ Burakovsky will be Game 5 scratch
Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals
• Baseball team to wear Washington Capitals-inspired jerseys (Photos)
Capitals confident in ability to continue road advantage vs. Lightning
Lightning power play, Capitals penalty kill will make or break series

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


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