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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals

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Capitals vs. Lightning

SEAN: Lightning in 6. This might be a common thought, but I can see the Capitals’ victory over the Penguins being the round they left it out on the ice. It was an emotional victory, but now they’re facing a much better team. The Lightning have the depth, defensive structure and goaltending that will help them advance to the Final once again. How will Washington find the answer to the waves of offensive threats that are currently still producing that Tampa can send over the boards?

JAMES: Lightning in 6. A solid-but-unspectacular finish to the regular season blunted some of the optimism for the Lightning, but after tearing through the first two rounds in 10 games, they look like the contender we saw earlier in 2017-18. They’re refreshed, have two very dangerous scoring lines, some strong defensemen, and Andrei Vasilevskiy back in near-Vezina form. The Capitals must feel incredibly loose after being the Penguins, and their top guys could conceivably steal this series. (Braden Holtby‘s back in form and Alex Ovechkin looks closer to 22 than 32 right now.) My money’s on the Bolts, and not just because they were my East Finalist heading into the playoffs.

ADAMCapitals in 7. The Lightning are probably the better team on paper and they are playing outstanding in the playoffs, and I think there is still the possibility of a letdown from the Capitals are finally knocking off the Penguins, so there is every reason in the world to pick the Lightning. But … I am still picking the Capitals. Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin are both playing outstanding and it just seems like everything is going their way right now. The Capitals get it done. Somehow.

JOEY: Capitals in 7. I predicted that the Capitals would be heading to the Stanley Cup Final when the playoffs started so I’m sticking with it. The fact that Braden Holtby has figured things out makes me even more confident that they’ll be able keep advancing. Also, Washington’s best players have continued to be their top performers through two rounds and that shouldn’t change in the Eastern Conference Final. Getting Nicklas Backstrom back healthy would obviously be a big plus.

SCOTT: Capitals in 6. It just feels right, doesn’t it? The Capitals finally get past their arch-nemesis in the playoffs by taking out the Pittsburgh Penguins only to come up short in the Conference Finals? Nah. That’s a boring story. I think Alex Ovechkin and Co. breathed new life into themselves after getting over that psychological hurdle in the second round. There’s no doubt that Tampa is a good team, great even. But Ovi has beaten up the Lightning over his career. Tampa is probably the smart choice, I just can’t bring myself to be wise. 

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Golden Knights vs. Jets

SEAN: Golden Knights in 7. Look, we’ve doubted them since last June when the team was put together. They answered every question, overcame every obstacle. So of course I felt the Sharks would get the better of them in the second round, but when Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like he is, no one was going to top them. Winnipeg presents a whole sort of different challenges. As they showed, they won’t be nervous to play on the road. But the Golden Knights’ top players have continued to step up as well as their depth. Hellebuyck vs. Fleury will be fun to watch, but in the end that Vegas magic will continue.

JAMES: Jets in 6. The tough thing about picking against a team is that it gives the impression that you’re dismissing them altogether. That’s not the case with Vegas; they have a legitimate top line, some fleet-footed defensemen, and Marc-Andre Fleury at his absolute best. Their next opponent is a different animal, though. The Jets boast two lines that can hang with just about anyone else, a remarkably deep group of defensemen, and a remarkably reliable young goalie in Connor Hellebuyck.

ADAM: Jets in 6. Vegas’ run has been amazing but they’ve also played the 11th and 12th best teams in the league in the playoffs so far, and two teams that aren’t great offensively. They’ve had the easiest path of the four teams in the Conference Finals by far. Now they get a Jets team that is a juggernaut offensively and can actually keep up with them skating wise. 

JOEY: Jets in 6. I’ve picked the Golden Knights to win in the first and second round, but I think their run comes to an end in the conference final. The Jets will be tough to stop. They managed to beat the Predators in Nashville three times and they did it a number of different ways. Winnipeg has solid goaltending, a steady defense and a number of offensive weapons that can get the job done on a nightly basis.

SCOTT: Jets in 6. Did you watch their series against Nashville? Did you see how good they were against the team with the supposed best goalie and best defense in the league? That offense in Winnipeg is just unstoppable. Marc-Andre Fleury has been stellar so far, but he hasn’t faced at Jets onslaught yet this postseason. There’s a good chance that this series turns into a track meet at times. It’s going to be fast and furious without the terrible acting. The Jets are on a tear, however, and Vegas, the best story in all of sports, likely won’t have the ability to stop it. 

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

Day at Ovechkin’s office: Capitals edge Rangers in OT

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The Washington Capitals outlasted the New York Rangers in what was largely a game of inches and lethal power-play units.

Matt Niskanen ultimately notched the difference-maker in Washington’s 4-3 overtime win as the Capitals ended a losing streak at two games. The rebuilding Rangers provided a pretty spirited showing, holding their own as the Capitals generated a modest 38-32 shots on goal advantage.

Here’s that Niskanen game-winner:

Each power-play unit went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, with the Capitals taking advantage of the “Death and Taxes” certainty of Alex Ovechkin scoring from “his office.” Both of Ovechkin’s power-play goals came from almost the exact same spot, with the main difference being that the second one caught Henrik Lundqvist a bit more by surprise (in part because he shot low).

John Carlson ranked as one of the Capitals’ standout performers in this win, generating one goal and two assists.

The Rangers enjoyed strong nights from their own first line, as both Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider authored one-goal, one-assist performances while creating plenty of other chances. (Jesper Fast was also busy, although he failed to generate any points.)

Circling back to that “game of inches” point, consider that Washington barely avoided a goal, as Christian Djoos saved the day early on:

While Ovechkin was close to nabbing yet another hat trick:

The Rangers and Capitals approach the 2018-19 season with very different expectations, yet each team saw their veteran goalies manage some nice stops, enjoyed strong nights from their top guns, and generally put on a nice show on NBCSN.

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.

Will NHL reduce Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension?

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Tom Wilson will get a chance to state his case to reduce his 20-game suspension via an appeal hearing with the NHL on Thursday, a process Bob McKenzie discusses in the video above this post’s headline.

To catch you up to speed, note that this is part of the appeal process where Wilson brings his case to Gary Bettman. After that, Wilson also has the option to bring his case to an independent arbitrator.

Wednesday’s New York Rangers – Washington Capitals game represents the sixth of 20 games. Note that Wilson loses more than $60K for every game he’s suspended for, so a reduction in his sentence could mean a lot of dough for the polarizing hitter.

What are his chances of getting a lighter punishment, then? As McKenzie notes, they aren’t great, particularly when it comes to Bettman cutting down a suspension.

That said, there are two cases worth noting:

  • Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian HossaIn July 2012, Wilson-like hitter Torres saw a 25-game suspension fall to 21 games for his check on Marian Hossa. This is probably the most directly comparable situation, at least when you consider the types of hits and the rap sheet for the players involved.
  • In June 2014, Dan Carcillo saw an “abuse of official” suspension reduced from 10 games to six.

Now, a neutral arbitrator might be more likely to ease the duration of Wilson’s suspension. Consider these two cases, which aren’t necessarily directly comparable:

All things considered, it’s easy to see why Wilson would go through this process. It’s quite plausible that he’ll get back into the lineup sooner and lose less money from the suspension, even if it’s not fair to call the possibility “likely.”

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.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins visit Flames on NBCSN

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The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Calgary Flames hosting the Boston Bruins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Two hot teams face off to wrap up tonight’s NBCSN games, as the Bruins carry a four-game winning streak into Calgary (facing a Flames squad that’s won three of four).

This contest shouldn’t be short on star power, as these squads pit two of the best top lines in the NHL against each other, while each team also has some nice complimentary pieces. If that wasn’t enough, Brad Marchand and Matthew Tkachuk are almost certain to ruffle feathers with their obnoxious, antagonistic ways.

The Flames and Bruins don’t meet all that often, so it should be a treat to watch these two interesting teams on Wednesday.

What: Boston Bruins at Calgary Flames
Where: Scotiabank Saddledome
When: Wednesday, October 17th, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Flames stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand — Patrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Joakim NordstromDavid KrejciJake DeBrusk

Ryan DonatoDavid BackesAnders Bjork

Chris WagnerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

John MooreBrandon Carlo

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask

[WATCH LIVE – 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Calgary Flames

Johnny GaudreauSean MonahanElias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk — Mikael BacklundMichael Frolik

Sam BennettMark JankowskiJames Neal

Garnet HathawayDerek RyanAustin Czarnik

Mark GiordanoTJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin — Rasmus Andersson

Juuso ValimakiMichael Stone

Starting goalie: Mike Smith

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Contract talks: Nylander and Leafs meet; Rinne’s future with Predators

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Update: The Ducks announced a three-year contract for Nick Ritchie tonight, so scratch one name off the list.

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Hockey insider Bob McKenzie swung by the NBCSN studio on Wednesday, covering multiple bases. As you can see in the video above this headline, McKenzie provided an array of contract-related updates from around the NHL, so let’s dive in:

William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are scoring goals like a glutton piling a plate high at a buffet, yet they’re missing quality top-six winger William Nylander. It’s far from a simple situation for either side. From Nylander’s perspective, he doesn’t want to leave too much money on the table, considering that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner may raise the bar with their own second contracts. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs must worry about maintaining enough cap space beyond those three young forwards and John Tavares‘ new deal, plus a big investment in Nylander is especially risky since he doesn’t have the largest sample size of work at the NHL level.

Phew.

As much as Kasperi Kapanen‘s strong early work has eased some of the burden of Nylander’s absence, the bottom line is that the two sides want to get something done. With that in mind, McKenzie and others report that Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas met with Nylander in Switzerland.

It remains to be seen if the two sides made any real progress in these high-stakes contract negotiations, although if nothing else, McKenzie notes that Dubas’ visit could at least ease some of the tensions that come with (literal and figurative) games of telephone.

Plenty of people believe that a “bridge” deal would ultimately be the most likely route for a compromise, but that could change with time, for all we know.

Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Dec. 1 deadline: That’s the NHL deadline for an RFA to sign a contract. If a deal isn’t reached, that player cannot play in the NHL during the 2018-19 season. It’s tough to imagine that being the outcome, although Nylander could conceivably play in the KHL or another league if things get truly nasty.
  • Nylander would be eligible for salary arbitration in the unlikely event that the Maple Leafs only sign him for 2018-19.
  • Nylander, 22, is five seasons away from being eligible for UFA status. That’s worth considering when you ponder how long a “bridge” deal might be.
  • The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun discusses the circumstances (sub required) that could make a trade more likely. (Personally, it’s tough to imagine, but it’s also surprising that the situation keeps dragging on.)

It’s a tough situation – with a lot of ins and outs – yet if the two sides can hammer something out, it could also be worth the headaches.

Nick Ritchie and the Anaheim Ducks

McKenzie provides an update to a far-less-pressing RFA situation, with the tone being optimistic about a deal being struck.

It’s been interesting to see how the beginning of the 2018-19 season could conceivably provide more leverage for both sides. On one hand, the Anaheim Ducks have been able to manufacture wins and standings points with Ritchie on the shelf. On the other, injuries have really left Anaheim with a pretty threadbare group of forwards.

Again, the stakes are profoundly lower there, as Ritchie’s been merely a modest scorer at the NHL level.

Key situations for the Nashville Predators

There were two fascinating situations for Nashville discussed in the video, with two players essentially in opposite phases of their careers.

Pekka Rinne: Some might expect the Predators to accelerate the “passing of the torch” in net from Rinne to Juuse Saros. After all, Saros is 23, has shown serious promise so far in the NHL, and is dirt-cheap at $1.5M per year through 2020-21. There’s a scenario where Saros could provide the Predators with a quality starter at a backup cost, possibly opening up room to keep Nashville’s depth intact. That’s not a terrible concept considering that Roman Josi‘s due a big raise from $4M (which expires after 2019-20), Kevin Fiala‘s rookie deal ends after this season, and Ryan Ellis‘ extension kicks in starting next season.

Reasonable ideas all around, but that might not be Nashville’s path.

McKenzie reports that the Predators hope to get an extension done, and interestingly, it might even be a long-term deal.

The numbers matter, then, from both a financial and years standpoint. Rinne is already 35, so it would be a 35+ deal, making an already risky proposition that much riskier. Such a commitment could really make you sweat if Rinne’s extension carries a cap hit anywhere near his current $7M.

Bringing Rinne back seems fair enough, but we’ll see if the Predators make a shaky gamble.

Eeli Tolvanen: From an established 35-year-old goalie to a still-quite-raw first-rounder from 2017, we have 19-year-old Eeli Tolvanen.

As PHT discussed when Tolvanen was demoted, the Predators prospect has a clause that would allow him to escape to Europe (KHL or otherwise) after he plays in 10 AHL games. McKenzie notes that Tolvanen is playing in his fifth AHL game tonight.

Read more here about the conundrum Nashville faces. Should they bite the bullet and just keep him with the big club, even with some work to be done? If he goes to the KHL, he wouldn’t be able to play in the NHL again this season, according to McKenzie.

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Again, you can get that rundown in the video above this post’s headline, while this article aims to provide additional insight. McKenzie also discussed Jake Dotchin’s situation with Anaheim (and Tampa Bay), so it’s worth your time to check it out.

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.