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Pondering Taylor Hall’s future with Devils after knee surgery

The New Jersey Devils announced that Taylor Hall underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this week. This part of the release indicates that he’s not certain to miss the remainder of the 2018-19 season, although it would be surprising if the Devils risked aggravating his issues with no chance of a postseason run:

Hall will begin rehabilitation immediately and will be evaluated regularly by the medical and training staffs throughout the rehabilitative process. Over the next few weeks, a timeline for his return to play will be guided by his progress. Updates on his status will be given when available.

The Athletic’s Corey Masisak notes that Hall’s been hampered for much of this season with the injury, as he had already been forced to miss 31 games.

Obviously, much of this is bad news. Hall’s so explosive that some wanted to nickname him “cannonball,” so it would be a shame if the 27-year-old loses a step or two following knee surgery.

Overall, though, this seems to be the wise decision.

There are plenty of cases where a player will allow an injury to linger before getting surgery. Sometimes those calls are made during the summer, possibly pushing recovery into the next season.

By going under the knife now, Hall increases his chances of beginning the 2019-20 season at full health. With the Devils firmly planted at third-to-last in the East this season, it makes little sense to rush Hall back to action, and New Jersey would only increase its draft lottery odds by losing a lot down the stretch. That’s certainly more likely with the reigning Hart Trophy winner on the shelf.

It’s also worth noting that Hall is scheduled to enter his contract year in 2019-20, seeing his bargain $6 million cap hit expire.

The Devils could sign Hall to an extension as early as this July, but that might be an oversimplification.

After languishing through years of struggles with the Edmonton Oilers, Hall spearheaded that unexpected run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet the Devils remain in a murky place. GM Ray Shero deserves credit for not overreacting to that surprise run by mortgaging the future, but the bottom line is that he still has a lot of work to do to make the Devils a true contender. Would Hall be willing to wait things out and trust that the Devils can make the right moves? Perhaps the Devils might flinch at possibly going into the $10M+ range with Hall?

A lot hinges on what happens with Hall, and there could be ripple effects through the Devils’ roster.

Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier will see their contracts expire after 2019-20, too. Kyle Palmieri is a bargain at $4.65M, but that won’t last forever, as his deal ends after 2020-21.

Knowing what the future holds with Hall could illuminate decisions like what to do with Vatanen, and also might push the Devils in certain directions. Their goaltending situation is fraught, but Hall’s likely presence or absence might also influence what kind of resources the Devils would want to invest in improving that situation. If you have a building block like Hall in place, maybe you go bold in seeking Sergei Bobrovsky, or a cheaper veteran. If not, you’re probably looking for cheaper, younger solutions.

It’s all a lot to take in, whichever way Hall leans. The situation would be even tougher to manage if Hall was hobbling through the rest of this season, so it makes sense to hopefully mend his knee, and focus on patching up the future.

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.

Controversy swirls as Hurricanes force Game 7 vs. Capitals

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After Game 5, people wondered what Dougie Hamilton was thinking. Game 6 involved a similar question, but this time the hockey world questioned what the officials were thinking.

The Carolina Hurricanes did a tremendous job battling back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in Game 6, ultimately winning 5-2. But, no doubt about it, a disallowed 3-3 goal for the Washington Capitals will hover over this game.

Moments after a 3-3 tie instead moved back to a 3-2 lead for the Hurricanes, Justin Williams put the contest out of reach with a 4-2 goal, then Dougie Hamilton got the next laugh with an empty-netter. The two teams will meet in a Game 7 to decide which team will move on to face the New York Islanders.

Judge that call for yourself, even if it ultimately didn’t stand:

One interesting element is the league’s explanation for the non-goal. Many wondered if this was an “intent to blow” the whistle situation where an official lost sight of the puck, yet the NHL’s Situation Room explained that it was determined that Alex Ovechkin interfered with Petr Mrazek‘s attempt to make a stop.

Ovechkin went from mocking Hamilton with a “chicken” gesture to being tossed from Game 6 after losing his cool (and giving it to the officials) late in the contest.

However you feel about the debated would-be 3-3 goal, it’s possible that the Hurricanes might have forced a Game 7, anyway. Overall, it was an exciting, well-played Game 6, with the teams following scripts we expected going into Round 1. Carolina generally dominated “quantity” in scoring chances and shot attempts, yet the Capitals sometimes had the edge from a “quality” standpoint.

Carolina kept fighting back in Game 6, as the Hurricanes have during this series, and Jordan Staal‘s eventual game-winner captured that scrappy spirit.

While this series has been a mix of nail-biters and blowouts, it just feels right that this one’s going to Game 7, even if the Capitals probably aren’t happy with how it got there.

Hurricanes – Capitals Game 7 takes place at Capital One Arena on Wednesday. (Stream here)

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.

Ovechkin mocks Hamilton, Hurricanes with chicken gesture

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Did Dougie Hamilton “bail out” on a would-be Alex Ovechkin check, thus letting Ovechkin retrieve the puck for a dagger 3-0 goal in Game 5? Was it a mental mistake by Hamilton, which would still be a gaffe, but not bring into questions of “toughness?”

Whatever the true answer might be, that moment reverberated through the Capitals – Hurricanes Round 1 series, and was referenced early in Game 6 on Monday (currently airing on NBCSN; Stream here). After Ovechkin missed a check on Hamilton, Ovechkin did a “chicken flapping its wings” motion at Hamilton and/or the Hurricanes bench.

You can watch the mocking gesture in the video above this post’s headline, and judge for yourself on that 3-0 goal from the Capitals’ eventual 6-0 win in Game 5 in this clip. Jeremy Roenick provided his take, too.

(Personally, I think Hamilton was confused, not frightened, but perhaps we’ll never truly know.)

Ovechkin’s not shy about trash talk, including in the playoffs – you may remember him jawing at Henrik Lundqvist in 2015 – and the Hurricanes must respond on the scoreboard. Alex Ovechkin let his play do some talking along with that taunting, as he scored a 2-1 goal for a Capitals lead moments after Petr Mrazek was bumped hard in an accidental collision by his own teammate, Justin Williams.

Tune into Game 6 on NBCSN and/or stream it here to see the taunting, heavy-hitting, and tense action.

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: Hurricanes, Predators attempt to force Game 7s

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Game 6: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (Capitals lead 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Game 6: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET (Stars lead 3-2)
CNBC
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti, AJ Mleczko
Series preview
Stream here

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
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Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Holtby has been ultimate closer for Capitals

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With a win on Monday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live streamthe Washington Capitals will advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

It is a pretty impressive streak when you remember just how often they were a postseason punchline before finally winning the Stanley Cup last season. Especially since no other team in the league has an active streak of more than three years (if the Nashville Predators come back to beat the Dallas Stars, it will be their fourth consecutive year advancing to Round 2, but they still need to win two games in a row to make that happen).

It is not easy to get out of Round 1 that regularly.

One of the biggest reasons they have been able to do so pretty much every year has been the consistently great postseason play of starting goalie Braden Holtby.

He is also a big reason why you have to like their chances of winning just one more game against the Carolina Hurricanes in this series.

Especially since these are the games he tends to really excel in.

Monday’s Game 6 against the Hurricanes will be the 19th time in Holtby’s career he will play a game where the Capitals have a chance to eliminate an opponent.

In the previous 18 games, he has a .932 save percentage in potential knockout games (slightly higher than his career postseason mark of .929 — which is significantly higher than his career regular season mark of .918), and has won seven of hits past 10 including each of his past five.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That includes a perfect 4-for-4 mark in the playoffs a year ago on the Capitals’ run to the Cup when he only allowed one goal in a Game 6 series-clinching win on the road in Pittsburgh in Round 2, and then shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning in a decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final (after also shutting them out in Game 6).

Of the three games he lost during that stretch, he didn’t allow more than two goals in any of them, and has allowed more than two goals in just five of the 18 games where he has had a chance to knock out an opponent out of the playoffs.

In other words: Even when the Capitals lose and fail to move on in the playoffs, it has rarely — if ever — been due to the play of their goalie.

For his career he has been one of the best postseason goalies in NHL history, and when he has a chance to finish the job in a series, he almost always plays well enough to do it.

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.