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PHT Face-Off: Konecny is flying; Can Hurricanes survive goalie injuries?

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off. We’ll break down some of the topics and trends around the NHL for the upcoming week and beyond.

• Will Stanley Cup Champions bring back Pietrangelo?

The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins both have free-agent defensemen that they’d probably like to re-sign before July 1st.

For the Blues, that’s captain Alex Pietrangelo. The 30-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and he’s been a key cog for the defending Stanley Cup Champions. He has 13 goals and 49 points in 65 games this year, which puts him on pace for over 60 points.

The veteran also plays key minutes for the Blues, as he’s currently averaging just over 24 minutes per game. One interesting nugget about Pietrangelo is that he’s capable of playing with different partners throughout the season. He’s played at least 220 minutes with Justin Faulk, Carl Gunnarsson, Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn.

Whether they win the cup again or not, losing Pietrangelo to free agency for nothing would be devastating.

The Blues have almost $74 million committed to next year’s salary cap (assuming the upper limit stays at $81.5 million). They still need to fill out the rest of their roster, so that means they’ll have less than $7.5 million to give their captain to stay. Given the numbers he’s put up over the course of his career, it’ll take more than $7.5 million per year anyway.

General manager Doug Armstrong has an interesting problem on his hands. Last week, he mentioned that negotiations wouldn’t start until after the season. Can he make the numbers work?

• What will the Blackhawks do between the pipes? 

The Chicago Blackhawks traded Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights last week, which left Corey Crawford and Malcolm Subban, who they got in the trade, on their roster.

Crawford has looked relatively good over the last few weeks. He’s managed to keep the opposition to two goals or fewer in four of his last five outings. It’s arguably the best he’s looked all season.

“He’s been excellent,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said, per NBC Sports Chicago. “He’s been good all year but another level the last month or two, and it’s good for our group.”

The fact that they traded Lehner away doesn’t really affect their long-term question marks between the pipes. Like Lehner, Crawford is scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st. With a good showing down the stretch, Subban could become the team’s backup goaltender on a full-time basis next year, but they still need an undisputed starter heading into 2020-21.

Even if Crawford continues rolling down the stretch, you’d have to think that GM Stan Bowman will look for another proven option outside the organization. Crawford is 35 and he’s struggled to stay healthy over the last few years.

Assuming Capitals netminder Braden Holtby makes it to free agency, could he be a fit with the Blackhawks? Could they bring back Lehner once he hits the market?

Bowman can bring Crawford back as a part-time starter if he wants to, but they can’t go into next season with him as an undisputed starter. It’s way too much of a risk for a Blackhawks team that needs to make the playoffs.

• Can inexperienced goalies keep Hurricanes in playoff hunt?

If the playoffs started today, the Carolina Hurricanes wouldn’t be in them. There’s no denying that the ‘Canes have a talented group, but they’re currently facing some adversity in goal. Both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are out, and now that the Dave Ayres story has cooled off, they’re left with two inexperienced goalies in Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic.

Carolina is three points behind Columbus for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes have three games in hand though. But they’re coming off a 4-3 OT loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Forsberg got the start in the game, but he was given the hook after allowing three goals on 20 shots before the midway point of the game. They managed to mount a three-goal comeback after Forsberg got the hook, but still ended up falling short.

Since Ayres won that game against Toronto two Saturdays ago, the ‘Canes have gone 0-2-1 with Forsberg and Nedeljkovic.

Can head coach Rod Brind’Amour get enough out of his goaltenders to sneak his team back into the postseason? That’s the biggest question mark right now.

“They’re very capable goalies,” forward Justin Williams said after the loss to Montreal, per NHL.com. “It could easily have been 4-0, then we’d be out of it. So it was an important point, and we dug in the last half of the game.”

• Konecny is flying

The Philadelphia Flyers have rattled off six wins in a row dating back to Feb. 18. They’ve been so good that Money Puck has given them the best odds of hoisting the Stanley Cup:

The Flyers have jumped ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division. They’re now just three points ahead of Washington for the first place. Can they do what most of us thought was unthinkable just a few weeks ago?

There’s many reasons why the Flyers are rolling, but one of the key contributors has been Travis Konecny. During this winning streak, he’s picked up four goals and eight assists. The 22-year-old has 23 goals and 60 points in 62 games this season, which puts him on pace for almost 30 goals and more than 75 points.

Check out these five-on-five numbers (originally tweeted on Feb. 26):

That’s some elite company for Konecny to be in. The scary thing is that he’s probably only going to get better from here.

What’s coming up this week
Jean-Gabriel Pageau plays Sens for first time since trade to Isles – Thu. Mar. 5, 7 p.m. ET
• Panthers will retire Luongo’s No. 1 – Sat. Mar. 7, 7 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Bruins vs. Lightning, Tue. Mar. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Ducks vs. Avalanche, Wed. Mar. 4, 9:30 p.m. ET
• Hurricanes vs. Flyers, Thu. Mar. 5, 7 p.m. ET
• Blues vs. Blackhawks, Sun. Mar. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Avalanche vs. Sharks, Sun. Mar. 8, 10 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Capitals, Wed. Mar. 4, 7 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

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There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

Aye Captains: Crosby, McDavid provide Penguins, Oilers spark

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TORONTO (AP) — The C’s have it: Crosby and Connor, that is.

It didn’t take long for the two captains – Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid – to make their presence felt three days into the NHL’s expanded playoffs.

With each of their teams facing 1-0 deficits, and both to their respective conference’s 12th- and last-seeded opponents no less, Crosby and McDavid provided much-needed sparks to even their best-of-five preliminary round elimination series, which resume Wednesday.

First, it was Crosby giving the Penguins a lift by beating Carey Price on a partial break to open the scoring in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto on Monday night.

A few hours later in the league’s other playoff hub city, Edmonton, Alberta, McDavid put on an eye-popping display – even by his standards – with his first three-goal playoff performance in a 6-3 win over Chicago.

”I’ve seen it for years with Sidney Crosby. I mean, he dictates the work ethic and pace of the game. Last night Connor was the guy to do that for us,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Tuesday.

”Connor’s not a big ‘Rah-rah’ guy, but he inspires players by how he plays,” he added. ”And last night, he certainly led the way for us, and the rest of our team followed suit.”

In Sid, the Penguins trust, veteran defenseman Kris Letang said.

”When Sid is leading your team, you know you’re in good hands,” Letang said. ”If it was not the case, right now we would be in trouble.”

The Penguins and the Oilers aren’t out of trouble just yet, given how only 15 of 83 NHL teams which lost Game 1 of a best-of-five series have gone on to advance.

Both teams are back in prime-time, with the Penguins facing Montreal (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), and Edmonton facing Chicago (10:30, NBCSN), while breathing just a little easier.

”He comes out and he’s flying like that the first couple of shifts, you want to follow right along,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. ”We know he can do that at any given moment. And for him to do that in a huge game like last night, it raises your energy level.”

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Islanders-Panthers stream
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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, Keith Jones, 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