NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference round-robin preview

The NHL Stanley Cup round-robin begins August 2 as the Eastern Conference’s top four teams battle for First Round seeding. This week, PHT look at one question facing each of the top four seeds in the East and West.

Round-robin — TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3:
Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

Eastern Conference Round Robin preview: Questions facing Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Lightning

Bruins: How will Pastrnak follow up career regular season?

David Pastrnak could have easily hit 50 goals and 100 points for the first time in his career if the pause hadn’t robbed him of 12 more games. He split the Rocket Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin and his next goal is to help the Bruins win a different kind of trophy a year after coming up one win short.

Pastrnak practiced with the full Bruins team Tuesday for the first time since Phase 3 began. Quarantine rules after arriving back in Boston from Europe prevented him from skating early on, and then he was deemed “unfit to participate” days later. Boston’s three round-robin games will be important for him to get the chemistry back with his linemates and settle him back into a goal-scoring groove.

The Bruins employ very good depth, one reason why they made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season. That depth helped them to the NHL’s best points percentage (.714) at the time of the pause. You still want your top players producing, and Pastrnak did that during the 2019 playoffs with 19 points in 24 games. Along with Brad Marchand, the duo will look to lead the offense yet again.

Capitals: What impact will Kovalchuk make?

After being acquired via a February trade, Ilya Kovalchuk only played seven times for the Capitals before the pause. He scored a goal and added three assists in limited time. The 37-year-old forward can become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, so a big postseason could payoff with a nice (final?) contract.

Kovalchuk has featured mainly with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. But head coach Todd Reirden hasn’t been shy about powering up and putting him with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov to really put an opponent on their heels at 5-on-5. He can give the Capitals scoring depth and, if his play in Montreal is any indication, a bit of a spark once the First Round arrives. At even strength and on a second power play unit, the veteran was a low-risk gamble by GM Brian MacLellan that could pay off big time.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Flyers: Will Hart be the answer in net?

Since he made his NHL debut last season, a lot has been placed on Carter Hart‘s shoulders. He’s been dubbed the franchise goalie for a franchise that has a long history of that position being an Achilles’ heel. But in two seasons in Philadelphia the 21-year-old has played well. His .915 even strength save percentage since 2018-19 puts him top 10 among all netminders with at least 70 appearances.

The postseason is always a different animal, but the Flyers have exceeded many expectations in their first season under Alain Vigneault. Hart has handled the pressure of the position well and now he gets his first taste of NHL playoff hockey. He had some injury concerns during Phase 3, but said he feels fine now and the three round-robin games will be a good opportunity to get up to game speed.

Lightning: How will they handle the pressure to win?

Tampa was on pace for a third-straight 100-point campaign before the pause, cementing themselves as a Stanley Cup contender yet again. Last season’s 128-point campaign that put them as heavy favorites ended in a disastrous four-game sweep by the Blue Jackets. They responded with 92 points in 70 games in 2019-20 and the third-best points percentage in the NHL.

But as has been the case for several years now, the regular season is a warmup for the Lightning. It’s what they do in the postseason that will matter. GM Julien BriseBois bulked up, adding Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow, while getting a bounce-back year from Kevin Shattenkirk and see Anthony Cirelli take big strides in his third season.

Does another playoff disappointment result in BriseBois, in his second full season as the team’s GM, making sweeping changes?

MORE:
NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during second week of Phase 3
Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
A look at the Western Conference matchups
Previewing the Eastern Conference

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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.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.