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

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.