Roundtable: Return to Play storylines; Stanley Cup underdogs

What’s the biggest aspect of the entire Return to Play that you’re most intrigued by?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The larger answer is how the NHL will handle any COVID-19 outbreaks/infections. But that’s not a whole lot of fun to talk about, is it?

So, instead of that … I’m really curious to see if the presentation comes together. Personally, I lean toward “less is more,” especially since the sounds of the game are so soothing. But the NHL wants to grab attention and keep it, so will the league find the right balance between style and substance? Might that formula change as time goes along?

(COVID-19 permitting, of course.)

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: How will players be able to deal with bubble life for potentially two months? During a normal playoff there are road trips and then those days when you play at home and can sleep in your own bed and see your family. This could be one very long road trip without the chance to see your family until the conference final. Could that almost be a benefit, where their life is strictly going to the rink for practices and games and back to the hotel to hang out with your teammates. It might serve as a boost to team chemistry and team morale.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Pretty much everything about the format and how all of it is going to be perceived as it plays out in front of us. There is always an element of unpredictability to hockey, and especially in the playoffs, and I feel like all of that is going to get kicked up an extra notch this season. The lack of travel, the lack of crowds, the fact there are an extra eight teams in the field to potentially get hot and go on runs, and how pretty much everything that happened during the regular season is now meaningless. This is for all intents and purposes the start of a new season after a four-month offseason. It does not matter who was hot or cold when we last saw hockey. This is a fresh start with fully healthy rosters. What happens if Montreal or Chicago, teams that had no chance of making the playoffs, get hot? What if Pittsburgh or Toronto loses and then wins the draft lottery? There are so many chaotic possibilities here.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I am interested to see how much better all teams are going to play without travelling. You often see tired teams in the post-season, especially when there is a lot of travel (in the Western Conference especially as the cities are usually spaced out quite a bit over three time zones) and I am expecting the play to be fast and exciting once everyone shakes out their doldrums.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content:  I’m most curious to see whether the top four teams in each conference will struggle when they match up against their opponent from the Qualifying Round. Those teams that emerge from their best-of-five series will have played at least a few games at playoff-level intensity. The top four teams are simply playing Round Robin games for seeding – hardly the same stakes. I would not be surprised to see a healthy dose of First Round upsets given this year’s unique format.


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Which team not considered a favorite do you think can make a deep run?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Just about everyone has that team that lures them in with a siren call of potential, despite all of the times they dropped the ball. Lately, the Calgary Flames have been that team. They have their flaws, particularly in net. Also, Mark Giordano isn’t getting any younger, and Johnny Gaudreau seems like he’s almost going through an identity crisis.

And …yet, and … yet. I look at some of the strengths of that Flames team and can’t help but wonder if they might be able to put a run together. Yeah, I’m a sucker.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: A goaltender carrying his team through the postseason is almost an annual tradition. Connor Hellebuyck carried the Jets during the regular season, which is why he’s likely to win the Vezina Trophy (and should have been a Hart finalist). Winnipeg’s not lacking for offensive weapons, and if their blue line can do a better job at suppressing shots at even strength, they could knock a few teams off.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I was a lot higher on Nashville during the season than most people were, so, what the heck, I am going to stick with that. Their special teams were a disaster this season, but they were a really good team at even-strength and I still like the roster overall. The biggest thing they need is one of their goalies to play at least reasonably well and both of them are very capable of doing that. Maybe a fresh start helps one of them get on the right track.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Vancouver Canucks. They have a lot of exciting, young players (Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser) up front with some veterans like J.T. Miller, Antoine Roussel and the returning Micheal Ferland. They have a good defense with Quinn Hughes, Alexander Edler and Tyler Myers leading the way. But I am a big Jacob Markstrom fan and I think he can backstop the Canucks into the second round of the playoffs at the very least. I hope I don’t look bad and have Minnesota knock them out in the play-in round.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’ll go with Toronto. The Leafs have a couple of holes in their roster, but they were the 3rd-highest scoring team this season and have the talent to beat anyone. They’ll need Frederik Andersen to stay healthy, but if he does, I think Toronto has a serious chance. Remember: this team had two tries to eliminate the eventual East champion Bruins last year, but lost Games 6 and 7.

Plus, how can you ignore the fact that Toronto will be playing in their home arena through the Second Round? The stars may be aligning for the Leafs to end their 53-year Cup drought.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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    Barkov sets Panthers’ points mark in 5-2 win over Red Wings

    Florida Panthers Power Play
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    DETROIT – Aleksander Barkov set the Florida franchise record for most career points, Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals, and the streaking Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth consecutive time, 5-2 on Monday night.

    Barkov recorded a second-period assist, giving him 614 points, breaking a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team record.

    Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points over the last five games. Eric Staal and Gustav Forsling also scored for the Panthers, who are 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots.

    Pius Suter and Dylan Larkin scored for the Red Wings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Ville Husso had 20 saves.

    The Panthers led 2-1 after the first period.

    The first Florida goal came after Lucas Raymond‘s turnover in his own zone. Sam Bennett made the steal and passed it to Tkachuk for his 33rd goal.

    Verhaeghe made it 2-0 with a slap shot that got past a screened Husso. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld after a video review.

    Just after killing off the subsequent penalty, Detroit got on the board when Suter jammed in a rebound of David Perron‘s shot.

    Forsling scored on shot from the point midway through the second period to restore Florida’s two-goal advantage. Barkov had the second assist, allowing him to break the franchise points record.

    Larkin scored on a delayed penalty off a pass from Raymond at 7:53 of the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.

    Staal scored on a breakaway off a pass from Anthony Duclair with under four minutes left, and Verhaeghe added a power-play goal.


    Panthers F Eetu Luostarinen had an assist in the 200th game of his career. … Florida is 29-2-3 when leading after two periods. … The last time the Red Wings beat the Panthers was Feb. 20, 2021. … Barkov has 42 points in 38 career games against Detroit. … Andrew Copp notched his 150th career assist on Larkin’s goal.


    Panthers: At Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

    Red Wings: At St. Louis on Tuesday night to open a home-and-home set.

    Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

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    PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.

    The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

    Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

    The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

    Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

    Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

    Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

    Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

    The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

    Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


    Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

    Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.