Stanley Cup Playoffs 2019: PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals

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BRUINS VS. HURRICANES

SEAN: Bruins in 6. You really want to see the Hurricanes advance and continue their memorable run this postseason, but in the end I think Boston’s top line and the play of Tuukka Rask will be what does them in. The Bruins got through the Blue Jackets with only a single goal from Brad Marchand, showing they can match the depth production of Carolina. The Hurricanes’ special teams have been abysmal through two rounds. They own the worst power play (10.5%) and penalty kill (75%) of the four teams remaining and are coming off a four-game series where the unit managed only one goal with the man advantage.

JAMES: Bruins in 7. The Hurricanes’ excellent defense, two-way depth, underrated talent, and fresh legs make them a tough opponent for anyone, Bruins included. Boston boasts the most complete team Carolina’s seen yet, with Tuukka Rask playing the best hockey of his career, improving supporting cast members picking things up well on the rare off nights for the Bruins’ ridiculous top line, and … oh yeah, that ridiculous top line.

And no, I’m not going to take the bait and make a bunch of jerks/Brad Marchand joke. Never. Not me.

ADAM: Hurricanes in 6. I do not think this run comes to an end. The Bruins are a great team and don’t really have a weakness anywhere on their roster, but I just love the way this Hurricanes team is playing. Their defense from top to bottom is better than Boston’s, I think their speed up front is going to give the Bruins fits, and as long as either Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney doesn’t turn into a pumpkin I think they are getting enough goaltending to get through this. They don’t need whoever plays in net to steal this thing; they just need them to not lose it. And I think they can do that.

JOEY: Bruins in 6. Hurricanes fans should be thrilled. I didn’t pick Carolina in the first or second rounds and we all know how that turned out. I’m not trying to disrespect the ‘Canes, but I think their run ends here. The Bruins started getting production from David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the tail end of their second-round series against Columbus, and Tuukka Rask has been nearly unbeatable for a while now. The Hurricanes will need to be almost perfect if they’re going to cause another upset. I don’t see that happening.

SCOTT: Bruins in 6. You have to give Carolina credit here. They just walked through the New York Islanders and took down the defending Stanley Cup champions in the round prior. They keep getting it done despite an injury to Petr Mrazek (who may be back for Game 1). And they possess, possess, possess. And they grind like Rod Brind’Amour used to. But they’re coming up against a Bruins team that has found its stride. The ‘Big Three’ are scoring and Tuukka Rask is playing lights out. Boston is going to win the physical battle, and if Rask doesn’t let up, its the end of the line for these bunch of jerks.

RYAN: Bruins in 7. Boston already took down something of a Cinderella story in Columbus and I think that’s going to happen again.  The Hurricanes have really impressed in this playoff run and I think teams are going to look at them a lot differently next year.  However, the Bruins are the ones with the experience and star power to pushed past Carolina and into the Stanley Cup Final.  I do think that the Hurricanes will be able to at least frustrate the Bruins though and steal some games through their goaltending and defense.

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BLUES VS. SHARKS

SEAN: Blues in 6. “This will be the series Jordan Binnington is solved for good,” he says, probably regrettably. The Sharks getting their captain back in Game 7 was a huge boost for them — and that was before he scored the opening goal and added an assist. Fully healthy, San Jose can be a dominant team as long as Martin Jones is playing like Good Martin Jones, which he showed in Round 2. But Binnington has been unflappable — even when he’s “celebrating” a double overtime series-clinching goal. He won’t be rattled, even in high-danger situations as he’s shown in 13 starts. The Blues’ stars have stepped up, they’re getting balanced scoring, and they have  a goaltender who’s been consistently great since making his NHL debut at the age of 25 just four months ago. Play Gloria!

JAMES: Sharks in 7. It sure looks like San Jose is destined to do this the hard way. These two teams are pretty versatile – able to win games with scoring or defense, with the occasional night stolen by a hot goalie. The Sharks’ firepower just looms a little to large to me, much like the Bruins’ high-end pieces. It’s not just the obvious, like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and a recently rejuvenated Joe Pavelski. I expect Timo Meier to torment the Blues in much the same way as Roope Hintz did in Round 2. Tomas Hertl won’t be easy to handle. This should be a slugfest, and the Sharks’ haymakers simply hit a little harder.

ADAM: Blues in 6. The Blues were my pick to come out of the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs and I am sticking with them here. I just like the way they have been playing for the past few months — pretty much ever since the Jordan Binnington and Craig Berube duo showed up. They have been one of the best teams in the league since then defensively (it is not all Binnington) and while they may not have a lot of star power up front after Vladimir Tarasenko it is a deep, balanced group of forwards that can put pressure on you. I could easily see the Sharks winning this, especially if they keep getting the same Martin Jones they got in Round 2, but I think that is my concern. I have to see it from him again before I believe it.

JOEY: Sharks in 7. Yeah, another seven-game series for the Sharks. Jordan Binnington has received a lot of positive press for the way he’s played since the start of the new year, but Martin Jones has quietly bounced back in a big way. Also, it’s impressive that the Blues managed to get to the Western Conference Final without getting a goal from Brayden Schenn and Ryan O'Reilly in the second round, but they can’t have that happen against the Sharks. San Jose has many a lot of guys who can put the puck in net.

SCOTT: Sharks in 7. A Martin Jones that can stop pucks and Joe Pavelski back and reasonably rested? I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop the San Jose Sharks, who have all sorts of weapons. That said, Jones is no Ben Bishop, so the goals could come a little easier. But the Sharks just seem bloody determined at the moment. There’s so much motivation for them outside of just winning the Cup. Joe Thornton hoisting it finally. Pavelski, too. The Blues will put up a fight. Jordan Binnington has been special in these playoffs and the Blues have found ways to grind out teams have got contributions from everywhere. The Sharks just seem destined for this at the moment.

RYAN: Sharks in 7. San Jose was my pick to win the Cup and I’ll stick with that. Certainly I do like St. Louis a lot.  They’re a deep, well-rounded team and Jordan Binnington has done enough to push them this far.  Ben Bishop deserves a lot of credit for his Game 7 heroics, but Binnington faced back-to-back elimination games and held the competition to a single goal in each contest.  He’s been attracting a lot of attention for a reason.  Still, the Sharks seem to have everything a championship team needs with the possible exception of a goaltender they can depend on.  Martin Jones held his own against Colorado in Round 2, so maybe now they even have that.

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
Hurricanes/Bruins series preview

PHT Roundtable

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom rings bell after final cancer treatment

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A week after hitting the ice with his teammates for the first time in six months, Oskar Lindblom got to ring the bell marking the end of his chemotherapy treatments.

The 23-year-old Flyers forward was diagnosed in December with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and played only 30 games this season.

On Thursday, Lindblom walked down the hall at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to ring the bell and celebrate with the nurses who took care of him.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” he told the Flyers website. “It feels I’m having a birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to just get back to normal life again and start feeling like I’m living.”

(Lindblom will not play for the Flyers later this summer if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season.)

Since being diagnosed, Lindblom received support from all over the hockey community. Players from the Flyers and around the NHL wore#OskarStrong” shirts and he was given a standing ovation when shown on the Jumbotron during a January game.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much they’ve meant to me,” said Lindblom, who is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. “Especially at the start when it was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better, calm, and it really helped along the way.”

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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.