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The 10 players that will impact NHL playoff race in second half

With the NHL All-Star break wrapping up and the second half of the 2019-20 season ready to begin, we are taking a look at some of the players, coaches, and general managers that could have the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff races and which teams end up making the postseason.

Here, we focus on 10 players that could stand out the most.

For the six coaches and general managers that could make the biggest impact, click here.

1. Elvis Merzlikins (Goalie), Columbus Blue Jackets. You don’t have to dig very deep to figure out how the Blue Jackets have exceeded all preseason expectations and played their way back into a playoff spot: It’s the goaltending. For as good as Joonas Korpisalo was to start the year, the play of Merzlikins is what has really helped turn this season around.

Since taking over in place of the injured Korpisalo, Merzlikins is 9-2-0 in his 11 starts (Matiss Kivlenieks also won a start in the middle of that stretch) with a save percentage well over .940. The Blue Jackets don’t score a lot of goals, they don’t have a ton of resources to deal from to strengthen the roster at the deadline, and while Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are both great defensemen, the team surrenders a lot of shots and doesn’t have great defensive metrics. But goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey and right now it is making all the difference for Columbus.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky (Goalie), Florida Panthers. While the Blue Jackets have found a tandem that works in net, their former goalie has made a very different impact with his new team. A bad one. There is plenty of reason for Panthers fans to finally be excited about their team, and they do enter the post-All-Star break stretch with a solid playoff footing despite the early struggles of Bobrovsky. He doesn’t have to be the Vezina Trophy goalie he was earlier in his career, but if he can bounce back in the second half the Panthers could become a very dangerous team given the strength of their offense.

3. Johnny Gaudreau (Forward), Calgary Flames. The Flames have regressed this season after finishing the 2018-19 season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. At the center of that regression is an offense that has gone from being one of the league’s highest scoring, to one of its lowest scoring. With only five goals in his first 29 games Gaudreau was a big factor in that team-wide decline offensively. He is currently on pace for the worst offensive output of his career, but over the past month or two has really started to show signs of breaking out and getting back to being the offensive difference-maker he is. If that continues down the stretch it could make all the difference in the Pacific Division.

4-5. Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie (Defensemen), Toronto Maple Leafs. Everyone knows the Maple Leafs’ flaw. Everyone knows the issue. It is defense. With Morgan Rielly sidelined for at least two months, the Maple Leafs are going to need Muzzin and Barrie to be great. Muzzin, probably the team’s best defensive player, has been sidelined since late December and it’s not a coincidence the team has struggled since then. Barrie was a huge offseason pickup, but has not yet met expectations. A healthy Muzzin and Barrie making the impact the Maple Leafs had hoped for would go a long way toward not only solidifying the Maple Leafs’ playoff hopes, but also giving them a chance to finally make a run beyond the first round.

6. Carter Hart (Goalie), Philadelphia Flyers. His first full season has had some inconsistencies to it, and he is currently sidelined with an injury, but Hart has the upside and ability to impact the Flyers’ playoff chances more than any other individual player on the roster. He and Brian Elliott both have league average numbers this season, but Hart showed last year as a rookie (and has at times this season) that he is capable of far more than that. If he can get to that level on a regular basis there is no reason this can not be a playoff team, even in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division.

7. Taylor Hall (Forward), Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes made their big trade deadline acquisition months before the actual deadline, and Hall gives them the exact type of difference-maker they have needed up front. If Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper are healthy, the Coyotes have the goaltending to win with a very good defense in front of them. They can shut teams down. The one thing they lacked was a top-line scorer. Hall provides that and seems to be settling in with 12 points in his past nine games. He carried the Devils to a playoff spot two years ago in his most recent fully healthy season, and he has a much better supporting cast on this team.

8. Jaccob Slavin (Defenseman), Carolina Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton is most likely done for the season, and you simply can not replace what he has done this season, especially offensively. He has been arguably the best all around defenseman in the league so far. There is no trade to be made to add that back. There is no player sitting in the press box or player in the AHL that can step in and do it. Slavin is the Hurricanes’ best defensive player (and one of the best in the NHL), and without Hamilton in the lineup he becomes their biggest offensive presence on the blue line as well. That is a big role, but he should be capable of filling it.

9. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Forward), Ottawa Senators — for now. He does not play for a playoff team just yet, but he will. With Hall already traded and the Rangers not necessarily guaranteed to trade Chris Kreider, Pageau might be the biggest name available on the trade market and he would be a significant add to any contender given his two-way play. He provides a shutdown defensive game as a second-or third-line center while also being on pace for more than 30 goals this season. Every playoff team in the league could find a use for a player like that, and he could be the type of secondary player that changes a game or two in the playoffs.

10. Dustin Byfuglien (Defenseman), Winnipeg Jets. On one hand, if he was going to play this season it seems like there would be more progress toward that right now. So maybe this is a long shot. But, if he did return it would be quite an add to a Jets defense that needs all the help it can get. They have managed to stay in the race for more than half of the season with a makeshift defense. They have the forwards, they have the goalie, they just need help on the blue line and there remains the possibility for a top-pairing player to walk through the door at some point. It would help.

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.

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Islanders-Panthers Game 3 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Florida opened the scoring, and led 2-1 midway through Game 2, but the Islanders scored three unanswered goals to put the Panthers on the verge of elimination.

“If there’s a team that’s able to do so, I think it’s us,” said Panthers forward Mike Hoffman on the Panthers’ chances of a series comeback.

After a difficult regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been able to deliver a win for Florida this postseason. He struggled in the exhibition game, allowing five goals to Tampa, and has come out on the losing end in both games this series. In Games 1 and 2, the goals that really seemed to change the momentum (Anthony Beauvillier’s game-winning goal in Game 1, Ryan Pulock’s game-tying goal in Game 2) were both scored five-hole from distance.

The Isles have been stingy defensively in their first two postseasons under the direction of Barry Trotz. They’ve now played 10 playoff games with him as coach, and allowed just 22 goals.

WHAT: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Tirico, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

The Wraparound: Panthers keeping faith facing elimination

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

James Reimer‘s goaltending and Sebastian Aho’s highlight-reel goal helped the Hurricanes complete the sweep of the Rangers.

• Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Wednesday.

Facing elimination, Joel Quenneville isn’t learning towards making a change in goal for Game 3 (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). “Very likely,” he said after Tuesdays’ loss to the Islanders about going back to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bob was their big summer acquisition, a $10 million a season investment. Their season is on the line Wednesday and they’re going to ride with him. Chris Driedger played well in only 12 regular season appearances, but he’s inexperienced. Quenneville has never been one to have much confidence in throwing young players into the fire.

Beyond the goals allowed, the goals for haven’t been helping. Florida has just two even strength goals in two games. There’s also the discipline problem as the Panthers have handed New York 12 power plays, allowing three extra man goals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Florida isn’t looking past Game 3, knowing there’s plenty of work to be done.

“This is the best time of my life,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “You get to play playoff games. Our whole team is here. We want to win. We want to play our best game. Obviously, our last two games are not our best. We can do a lot better. We’re going to do a lot better in the next game.

“If I’m disappointed in being here? No. This is a great chance for us. I’ve seen so many teams coming back from 3-0, 2-0, 3-1. It’s not over until …”

“The fat lady sings,” chimed in teammate Keith Yandle.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): A short memory is what Rick Tocchet is pounding home to his players. “We’ll move by this [loss to Nashville] in about two minutes,” he said after the Predators evened the series with a Game 2 win. Getting clean shots through on goal will be one of Arizona’s keys. They sent 26 Juuse Saros‘ way Tuesday, but Nashville blocked 21 shots.

Round-robin: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: At the end of every round this postseason, teams will be re-seeded – so round robin standings are critical. If Boston loses, the Presidents’ Trophy winners would no longer have a shot at the first seed in the East. Tuukka Rask, who has been dealing with a fractured finger on his glove hand, is expected to start. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not take line rushes with the team on Tuesday and has been ruled out.

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream: How do you top a buzzer beater? Colorado is going to try. As they look to try and claim the West’s top seed, the Avs take on a Dallas team eager to forget about Monday’s third-period collapse to Vegas. Jared Bednar has no named starting goalie, but Pavel Francouz is expected to play.

Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Sidney Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

Game 3: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Many expected this to be a high-scoring series, and it hasn’t disappointed. Nineteen goals have been scored through two games, with the winning team scoring six goals in each game. The big names on both teams have impressed, including Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who both have six points after consecutive three-point performances. Patrick Kane has three points in the series (1G-2A).

THURSDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Wild vs. Canucks, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Capitals, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Blues vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 3: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning – 2 pts. (.657)
Flyers – 2 pts. (.645)
Capitals – 1 pts. (.652)
Bruins – 0 pts. (.714)

WEST
Avalanche – 2 pts. (.657)
Golden Knights – 2 pts. (.606)
Blues – 0 pts (.662)
Stars – 0 pts. (.594)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

NHL Bubble Wrap: Hurricanes advance, Eberle shines and Maple Leafs get even

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  • Thanks to another big game from Sebastian Aho the Carolina Hurricanes are advancing.
  • The Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks all get even in their series.
  • The Calgary Flames and New York Islanders get one step closer to advancing.

New York Islanders 4, Florida Panthers 2 (Islanders lead series 2-0)

Jordan Eberle scored a pair of goals for the Islanders in 4-2 win as they take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Florida Panthers. The Islanders were able to feast on a sloppy Panthers effort in the second period to take complete control of the series. This has to be disappointing for the Panthers after spending so much money this offseason to try and build this team into a contender. Now they are in a position where they need to win three in a row to move on.

Nashville Predators 4, Arizona Coyotes 2 (Series tied 1-1)

The Predators stuck with Juuse Saros in net and it turned out to be a bit of a role reversal from what we saw in the first game. This time it was Nashville jumping out to the big early lead and holding off a (very) late push to get the win. The Predators received goals from four different players (Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok, and Viktor Arvidsson) while Saros stopped 24 out of 26 shots for the win. He shut the Coyotes out for 59 minutes before allowing two goals in the final minute of regulation.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0 (Series tied 1-1)

After a Game 1 clunker the Maple Leafs desperately needed this win. It was not just the fact they were able to bounce back and win, but the way they were able to win. Simply put, they dominated this game from start to finish and had it not been a valiant effort from Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo this could have quickly turned into a blowout. Auston Matthews and John Tavares both scored for the Maple Leafs in the win. The bad news from this game was the scary injury suffered by defenseman Jake Muzzin as he had to be stretchered off the ice late in the third period.

Calgary Flames 6, Winnipeg Jets 2 (Flames lead series 2-1)

The injuries are catching up to the Jets. Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine both missed another game, while Tucker Poolman and Mathieu Perreault were injured in the Jets’ 6-2 loss. It was a huge bounce back game for the Flames as six different players scored goals and Cam Talbot played a great game in net to get them one game closer to advancing.

Carolina Hurricanes 4, New York Rangers 1 (Hurricanes win series 3-0)

The Hurricanes wrapped up a very emphatic and decisive three-game sweep of the New York Rangers on Tuesday night with a 4-1 win to become the first team to advance through the qualifying round. Sebastian Aho scored two more goals including a highlight reel play in the third period (see it below) to finish the series with eight points in the three games. The trio of Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen is going to be a problem for any opponent this postseason.

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (Series tied 1-1)

The Canucks needed their top-six to come through after a quiet start to the postseason, and they did exactly that on Tuesday night in a 4-3 win. Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Quinn Hughes, and Alex Edler all had big games to help Vancouver even the series.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. All Eberle has done for the Islanders in his two years with the team is score a bunch of big goals in the playoffs. His two-goal effort on Tuesday helped the Islanders take a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers, while giving him six goals in his first 10 playoff games with the Islanders (dating back to last year’s postseason).

2. James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes. The last time Reimer started a playoff game he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and on the losing end of an epic Game 7 collapse that saw his team blow a 4-1 third period lead. On Tuesday, he had a much better result on Tuesday. Reimer stopped 37 out of 38 shots — some of them in spectacular fashion — in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win over the Rangers. It is fitting that this performance took place in, of all places, Toronto.

3. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames. Monahan was the big offensive star for the Flames on Tuesday with a goal and two assists in their win over the Jets. Two of those points (his goal and his first assist) came on the power play as he helped that unit score three goals to drive the offense in the win.

Highlights of the Night

Sebastian Aho had a massive series for the Hurricanes and capped it off with a two-goal effort on Tuesday. This goal is especially beautiful.

This J.T. Miller shot is about as perfect of a shot as you can get off the rush.

This was one of the most incredible sequences for Reimer in his Game 3 performance for the Hurricanes.

Factoids

Wednesday’s Schedule

Game 3: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead 2-0)
Game 3: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1)
Round-Robin: Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Round-Robin: Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

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.

Canucks top players shine in Game 2 win over Wild

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After getting shut out in Game 1 of their qualifying round series the Vancouver Canucks needed their top players to bounce back with a big game on Tuesday.

They got exactly that type of performance in a 4-3 win to even their series with the Minnesota Wild.

Tanner Pearson opened the scoring for the Canucks just 24 seconds into the first period to get their offense rolling and set the tone for a big night for the team’s top-six group of forwards.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

J.T. Miller‘s goal at the three-minute of the second period — an absolute laser of a snap shot off the rush that picked the corner on Alex Stalock — gave Vancouver 2-1 lead, while Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat all added insurance goals late in the game. Boeser’s goal was the first postseason goal of his career, while standout rookie Quinn Hughes picked up an assist on Horvat’s third period power play goal that would end up going in the books as the game-winner.

Depth is the biggest question mark for this Canucks team and if they are going to have any chance of making any noise this postseason it is going to have to be through their top-six. If that group does not score and carry the offense there really is not much else throughout the lineup that can make up for that.

On Tuesday, Boeser, Miller, Horvat, Pearson, and Elias Pettersson all found the scoresheet, while defenders Hughes and Alex Edler combined for three assists.

Just about the only negative for the Canucks on Tuesday is the fact veteran forwards Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel were both injured. Roussel logged just four minutes of ice-time while Ferland played only two minutes.

While the final score looks close, the Canucks were in control of this game for most of the night and held a 4-1 lead until there were two minutes remaining on the clock. It was at that point that Kevin Fiala continued his torrid goal-scoring pace by adding two more goals, giving him 16 goals in his past 15 games dating back to the regular season. He already has three goals in the first two games of the series. His second goal came with just 8.8 seconds to play in regulation.

Game 3 of the series will take place on Thursday afternoon.

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.