The Wraparound: A fresh McDavid could push Oilers far in playoffs

The Wraparound: A fresh McDavid could push Oilers far in playoffs
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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

• Be sure to check out all of Saturday’s Stanley Cup Playoff action in the Rink Wrap right here. 

• Could there be another key goalie injury? Darcy Kuemper left Game 3 for the Avalanche after taking a stick up high.

• Gary Bettman insists that the Senators are not for sale, are “not unstable,” and “there are no problems.” Such statements always inspire the utmost confidence that there are no problems. Does Bettman use the same phrasing for the Arizona Coyotes?

• Speaking of that, here are the details about the Coyotes’ confirmed ASU arena situation, which will definitely having everyone say “there are no problems.” A capacity of 4,700 fans just makes it cozier!

Last season, Connor McDavid incredibly reached 100-plus points in just 53 games, accomplishing something people thought was unreasonable in a 56-game season.

Instead of resting McDavid with little to play for (as some recommended), the Oilers still trotted him out for three largely irrelevant regular season games. Is it possible that a fresher Connor McDavid could’ve helped the Oilers win a series against the Jets, or at least avoid being swept? That’s something we can really only speculate about.

[Last year, Jets pulled off painful, rare “close sweep” vs. McDavid and Oilers]

Now, plenty of teams — even smarter ones — shrug their shoulders at the idea of strategically resting players. With the Oilers, it’s tough to shake the feeling that it’s a piece of a larger puzzle. Despite being gifted with Connor McDavid and other bits of lottery luck, this team often squanders that talent in part by leaning on dusty, old ideas.

Yet, under Jay Woodcroft, there are signs of possible breakthroughs. Sometimes it’s subtle, but in a league like the NHL, you can really start cooking if you keep stacking smart decision after smart decision.

Again, not every decision is a galaxy brain moment. Plenty of coaches would’ve rested McDavid and Draisaitl during the final game of the regular season, but not all of them (see: Darryl Sutter).

A lot of factors influence whether a team makes a deep playoff run, and luck is a huge one. But the Oilers have a chance to “make their own luck” if they can keep McDavid and Draisaitl fresher than the competition.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

Part of that’s about picking your spots.

When the Oilers were in a Game 1 slugfest with the Kings, McDavid logged 25:33 time on ice, the sort of minutes you ask from a star defenseman. Yet, in the past two blowouts, McDavid didn’t reach 17 minutes in either contest.

Perhaps the lure of greater rest can inspire the Oilers against the Kings in Game 4, and beyond?

It’s plausible that these most immediate factors could really help Edmonton:

  1. Perhaps the Kings simply are overmatched, and the Oilers could win Games 4 and 5 to wrap things up?
  2. Elsewhere in the Pacific Division bracket, the Stars are pushing the Flames. Every game has been a grinding affair with little room for error. Would anyone be shocked if the Stars and Flames went six or seven games?

McDavid deserves a lot of credit for improving his defensive game, including adjusting to Woodcroft’s tweaks. Nonetheless, blinding, terrifying speed is what separates McDavid from other similarly skilled superstars.

Now imagine McDavid not only having faster legs than his opponents, but fresher ones. You could start to dream big from there.

Naturally, less fatigue could mean a lot to 40-year-old goalie Mike Smith, too. Still, the prospect of McDavid being as close to full-speed as you can get during the playoffs would be a scary one for any opponent.

Of course, to gain that edge, the Oilers must be efficient against the Kings, which is far from guaranteed.

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 4: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes, 12:30 p.m. ET — ESPN (CAR leads 2-1): To get back in this First Round series, the Bruins held the Hurricanes to a low-event game at even-strength, and dominated on special teams. Boston’s big guns stepped up, in general. We’ll see if they can thread that needle to tie this series.

Game 4: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild, 4:30 p.m. ET — TBS (MIN leads 2-1): Will we get a close contest in Game 4? After the Blues won Game 1 by a score of 4-0, the Wild took the last two contests by a bloated combined score of 11-3. That’s three straight games decided by four goals. Heading in, this series looked closely matched; will that just mean they keep trading lopsided wins?

Game 4: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET — TBS (TOR leads 2-1): During their repeat Stanley Cup wins, the Lightning have responded impeccably to losses. As much as people joke about the Maple Leafs squandering 3-1 series leads (and 4-1 leads in games), the Lightning’s hopes of a three-peat could very well ride on winning Game 4. (Even if the Maple Leafs tragically squander a hypothetical 3-1 series lead to the Lightning, going a full seven games would take a lot out of a Bolts squad that’s already piling up serious mileage.)

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET — TBS (WSH leads 2-1)
Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET — ESPN (PIT leads 2-1)
Game 4: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET — ESPN (COL leads 3-0)
Game 4: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET — TBS (DAL leads 2-1)

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
• Penguins vs. Rangers
• Panthers vs. Capitals
Blues vs. Wild
• Avalanche vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings
Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
• NHL Draft Lottery set: Canadiens have best odds for top pick
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

“It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.