Karlsson, Panarin, Bobrovsky can close strong and cash in

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Many NHL teams have plenty to play for down the final stretch of the regular season, trying to get in the playoffs or to improve their positioning, before 16 teams compete for the Stanley Cup.

Some players have a lot at stake, too.

Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are a few of the potential free agents in the league with a chance to close strong and cash in by re-signing with their teams or on the open market.

The top trio of stars and some other standouts with a lot to gain financially when the season is finished, if not sooner:

KARLSSON

The San Jose Sharks acquired the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from Ottawa before the season started, hoping they would have him for more than a year. To keep Karlsson off the market as an unrestricted free agent, San Jose may have to at least match the eight-year, $88 million deal the Los Angeles Kings gave defenseman Drew Doughty to stay last summer.

PANARIN

Dynamic scorers like the Russian winger rarely are available in free agency and a team that wants to spend a lot of money over many years may be able to land an 80-point scorer. Panarin has already said he wants to see if there are better options in the summer than staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are simply hoping he helps them win at least a postseason series for the first time.

BOBROVSKY

Big-time goaltenders, like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, usually stay with their teams and off the market. Like his teammate and fellow countryman, the 30-year-old Bobrovsky will probably want to make the most of his opportunity to make as much money as he can with his next deal while being at or near the prime or his career.

Matt Duchene

It was a good time for the center, and his bank account, to have one of the best years of his career. He’s averaging more than a point per game this season, starting with Ottawa, before being dealt to Columbus . If Panarin and Bobrovsky appear to be leaving in free agency after the season, the Blue Jackets may give the 28-year-old Duchene a lot to stay before the market opens.

Jeff Skinner

The center has a shot to surpass the 63 points he has reached twice before the team he plays for, the Buffalo Sabres, are relegated to watching the postseason for an eighth straight season. The Sabres want to re-sign Skinner, but he might be willing to take a seven-year deal – instead of the eight he can get to stay – and join a Stanley Cup contender.

Jake Gardiner

He has been out for nearly a month with a back injury, but barring it lingering into the playoffs to cast doubt on his long-term health, one of the best defensemen available will be paid well to stay in Toronto or to go play for another team.

Wayne Simmonds

The winger has not produced much offensively with Nashville, which acquired him from Philadelphia, and yet he will have a chance to make a lasting impression when it matters most in the playoffs. Simmonds has a rare combination of scoring ability, toughness and durability.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

There is an excellent group of players eligible to be restricted free agents, including: forwards Mikko Rantanen, William Karlsson, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho and Matthew Tkachuk along with defensemen Jacob Trouba and Zach Werenski. Teams, though, rarely extend offer sheets to other franchise’s restricted free agents as Philadelphia did in 2012 with a $110 million, 14-year deal for Shea Weber, only to have the Predators match it.

Golden Knights’ owner says NHL executive apologized for Game 7 penalty

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The owner of the Vegas Golden Knights says a senior NHL executive called him to apologize for a penalty called during Game 7 of his team’s loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Owner Bill Foley says the call came the morning after Vegas lost 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday night to end the first-round series. Foley said at a news conference Thursday the call came from an executive who is ”about as senior as you can get,” but he did not want to identify him.

The penalty in question was a 5-minute major on Cody Eakin of the Golden Knights that Foley described as ”infuriating.”

The owner says the executive admitted it was a ”bad call” and the league does ”acknowledge” it. Foley adds the apology made him ”feel a little better after that.”

San Jose coach Peter DeBoer downplayed the league’s call to Foley, saying his team was also on the receiving end of dubious calls but he now wants to concentrate on his next opponent.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman needs surgery for torn knee ligament

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TORONTO (AP) Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman has a torn knee ligament and is expected to miss a minimum of six months.

The team said Thursday he injured his anterior cruciate ligament during a playoff loss to Boston and will have surgery Monday.

The 26-year-old Hyman set career highs in goals (21) and points (41) this season. He had one goal during the seven-game playoff loss to the Bruins.

He has 115 points in 251 career NHL games.

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

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The first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was filled with upsets, crazy comebacks, and incredible individual performances. Now that it is in the books and eight teams still have their Stanley Cup dreams alive, our focus in the PHT Power Rankings this week shifts to taking a look at the early favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have combined to win the award in each of the past three seasons, but with both of their teams eliminated in Round 1 there will be a changing of the guard this year and some new names at the top of the list.

Let’s take a look at who some of them are.

To the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. One of the league’s best players and perhaps the most valuable asset in the NHL right now. MacKinnon was a force in the Avalanche’s Round 1 upset win over the Calgary Flames, finishing with eight points in five games, playing more than 23 minutes per night (more than any other player on the team other than defender Tyson Barrie) and looking as unstoppable as any other player in the league. From start to finish he was the most impressive player in Round 1 on any team.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. Hertl scored six goals in the Sharks’ seven-game series win over the Vegas Golden Knights, including at least one in each of the final three games as they erased a 3-1 series deficit. They were huge goals, too. After scoring two goals in the Sharks’ 5-2 Game 5 win, his shorthanded double overtime goal in Game 6 sent the series to a seventh game where he would record two points as part of that insane third period rally. He might be the single biggest reason the Sharks are still standing.

3. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars. HIs Round 1 performance is just one more reason for hockey fans in Nashville to hate him as he helped knock out the Central Division champs in six games. Dallas’ big-four of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Radulov were all great in the series, but Radulov was a special kind of dominant. He scored four goals in the series and looked like he was a threat to break the game wide open every single time he was on the ice. He not only helped carry the offense, the Stars only surrendered one goal in his 94 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time (they scored eight).

4. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders. He was a big reason the New York Islanders exceeded all expectations during the regular season, and he was a big reason they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games. He allowed just six goals against one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams and finished the series with a .956 save percentage, tops in the playoffs so far.

5. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes’ defense is by far the strength of their team, and they did a tremendous job in Round 1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Their best overall performer was Slavin, as he not only finished with nine points (highest on the team) but was also a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ ability to shut down the Capitals offense at even-strength. The Hurricanes were the better team for most of the series during 5-on-5 play, and there was probably no one player that did more to drive that defensively than Slavin. Every member of the Hurricanes’ defense is good, and he is starting to emerge as one of their best.

6. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Marchand has been one of the NHL’s most impactful players for about four years now and he continued that in Round 1 for the Bruins. He had three multi-point games in their latest postseason win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a pair of three-point games.

7. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This is exactly what you hope to get from a big trade deadline acquisition. Duchene was a monster for the Blue Jackets in their stunning four-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning, finishing with seven points while averaging just 15 minutes of ice-time per game. He was at his best in Game 2 of the series when he finished with four points, helping to turn the Lightning into “a five-alarm fire.”

8. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After what was probably the worst regular season performance of his career, Schwartz came through at just the right time for the Blues to help ruin the Winnipeg Jets’ season. He scored four consecutive goals for the Blues by not only capping off their stunning Game 5 rally with a game-winning goal with 15 seconds to play, but then recording a hat trick in their 3-2 series-clinching win in Game 6.

9. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. In his first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance during the 2016-17 season Eberle failed to score a goal in any of his 13 games. He pulled a complete 180 in Round 1, scoring in all four of the Islanders’ wins over the Penguins. Each one of them proved to be a game-changer.

10. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the third time in his career and showed why in the Stars’ Round 1 win with a sensational performance against the Predators. With his .945 save percentage in the six games, he is now up to a .930 save percentage 42 career postseason games.

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.

Stunning numbers from insane Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Throughout the 2018-19 regular season we took an occasional look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

We will continue that in the playoffs after each round and start it off today with a look at some truly stunning numbers from what was an insane two weeks of hockey.

Here is what we found.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tampa Bay’s all-time clunker of a postseason

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, tying a league record for most wins (62) and finishing with a league-best goal differential of plus-103.

That was more than 40 goals better than the second-best team in the league (Calgary at plus-62).

They followed it up in the playoffs by not winning a single game and getting outscored by a 19-8 margin, including 19-5 after the first period of Game 1.

How unfathomable was that performance? Not only were they first Presidents’ Trophy winning team to ever be swept, but they were also just the second team to ever win at least 50 games in the regular season and then fail to win even a single playoff game. The only other team to suffer that fate was the 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks who won 50 regular season games and were swept by the Nashville Predators.

The Lightning are also the only team that has ever won at least 55 games and failed to win a playoff game. Just a bad performance all around.

[Related: Lightning have plenty of questions to answer after playoff failure]

Five minutes

Well, five minutes and 51 seconds to be exact.

What does that represent? The amount of time that the Pittsburgh Penguins spent playing with the lead in their Round 1 series against the New York Islanders. Even Tampa Bay had the lead for at least 48 minutes in its series sweep against Columbus.

It almost seems impossible to have that much talent and spend so little time ahead. It is even more astonishing when you realize the Penguins actually scored the first goal in three of the four games. They just immediately gave it right back every single time.

In Game 2 they allowed the game-tying goal just three minutes after Erik Gudbranson scored.

In Game 3 they allowed the tying goal less than a minute after Garrett Wilson scored.

In Game 4 they allowed the tying goal less than 90 seconds after Jake Guentzel scored.

And that was it.

At the other end of the spectrum, no team spent more time playing with the lead in Round 1 than the Vegas Golden Knights, 218:55 ahead of the San Jose Sharks. Boston was the only other team to spend more than 200 minutes ahead. Vegas still lost the series, which also seems hard to believe.

Auston Matthews mostly watches another Game 7

There are a lot of things you can criticize Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock for (not winning anything of significance in nearly a decade being near the top of the list) but his bizarre player usage has to be a big one right now. With the Maple Leafs’ season on the line in Game 7, a game they were trailing for more than 40 minutes, a game where they never had to kill a penalty, their best player saw the ice for only 18 minutes and 48 seconds. There is really no excuse for that, especially when this exact same thing happened a year ago when Matthews played only 18:06 in their Game 7 loss to the same Bruins teams. You are paying this guy more than $10 million per year to be your franchise player, how you do not ride or die with him with your season on the line is a mystery.

Nashville’s power play was a giant zero

Literally, a zero.

The Predators failed to score a power play goal against the Dallas Stars, going 0-for-15 in the six game series. It is only the 11th time in NHL history that a team had at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and did not score a single goal.

This is a big reason they are not moving on, and a big area they will have to address over the summer.

Dallas’ top line dominance 

The other big reason the Stars were able to eliminate the Predators was the play of their top line. This wasn’t just a great series for the Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov trio, it was a complete beat down.

That trio played 50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together and put up the following numbers:

Goals for-Goals Against: 5-0
Shot Attempt Share: 56.5 percent (73 for, 56 against)
Scoring Chance Share: 57.6 percent (49 for, 36 against)
High-Danger Scoring Chance Share: 65.0 percent (26 for, 14 against)

Sure makes things easier for everybody else when you have a line doing that to a team.

Warren Foegele, surprising offensive star for Hurricanes

The Hurricanes used a strong defensive effort and a balanced offensive attack to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The surprising offensive star for them was 22-year-old Warren Foegele who scored four goals in the seven games. He did that after scoring just 10 goals during the entire regular season.

1.19 percent

That was the win probability, via MoneyPuck.com, for the San Jose Sharks when they were trailing, 3-0, with less than 10 minutes to play in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

It was at that point that everything was flipped upside down when Cody Eakin was given a controversial five-minute major for cross-checking, setting the stage for one of the wildest Game 7s you will ever see.

Brent Burns never seemed to leave the ice

The Sharks have two of the NHL’s best defensemen in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, and they both logged a ton of minutes in their Round 1 over the Golden Knights. They were 1-2 in the NHL in time on ice, but Burns was on a level all his own. He averaged more than 30 minutes per game (nearly three minutes more than Karlsson, who was second) and played a total of 213:18. Nobody else in the first round played more than 190. That is a lot of ice time.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

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.