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PHT Morning Skate: Longest game in AHL history; 5 huge matchups in Game 7

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Former NHLer Rich Clune shares his story. Clune was an alcoholic and a drug user, but he’s now been totally sober for five years. This is a great story. (Players’ Tribune)

• Larry Brooks of the New York Post takes a look at the Rangers’ future regarding analytics, Ilya Kovalchuk and more. Brooks says if they don’t go after Kovalchuk, it would be a huge mistake. (New York Post)

• The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Charlotte Checkers played the longest game in AHL history. Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon stopped 94 shots in the victory. (ESPN)

• Former Avalanche star Milan Hejduk is selling his Parker, Colorado mansion, which comes with an indoor ice rink and custom Zamboni. It can all be yours for a cool $5.2 million. (Denver Post)

• There’s a lot of similarities between this year’s Vegas Golden Knights and Scotty Bowman’s 1967-68 expansion St. Louis Blues. For starters, both teams selected Stanley Cup winning goaltenders in the expansion draft. (NHL.com)

• What should the Bruins do with free agents like Anton Khudobin, Brian Gionta, Nick Holden and Rick Nash? (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• One of the reasons the Tampa Bay Lightning are so good is because general manager Steve Yzerman is a sharp hockey mind. (Raw Charge)

• How far should the Edmonton Oilers go to acquire Erik Karlson? Pretty far. Pretty, pretty far. (Oilers Nation)

• The Hockey News provides update on a number of different draft-eligible prospects, including Noah Dobson, who will likely be a top 10 pick in the NHL Entry Draft. (The Hockey News)

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli breaks down five critical matchups ahead of Game 7 between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. (TSN.ca)

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.

Bruins give Donato a shot; Marchand, DeBrusk game-time decisions

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When it comes to NHL coaches giving rookies/young players the call during the playoffs, sometimes you settle for “better late than never.”

Ryan Donato probably deserved more opportunities earlier during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, whether that meant attempting to finish off the Toronto Maple Leafs a little more efficiently or, now, possibly supplementing the Boston Bruins’ depth against the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning. The fresh-out-of-Harvard forward didn’t deny some frustration with all the healthy scratches after word surfaced that he’ll suit up for the Bruins in Game 4 tonight.

(That facial hair might count as a rookie mistake.)

Donato, 22, has only appeared in one postseason game so far, receiving 9:24 in ice time during Game 2 against the Maple Leafs on April 14. That’s a long time to sit, especially when you consider that the Ivy Leaguer passed his regular-season tests with flying colors (nine points in 12 games).

It’s not clear who Donato will line up with, and this isn’t down to playoff gamesmanship alone.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Both Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk are considered game-time decisions after missing a recent practice. The good news is that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that he believes they’ll play, but you never know in the playoffs; Patrice Bergeron‘s late scratch during the first round is an example of how things can go south after players get a chance to warm up.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa speculates that, under normal circumstances, Donato would replace struggling fellow young forward Danton Heinen. Marchand and DeBrusk being coin flips for Game 4 complicates such things.

During his regular season appearances, Donato’s most common even-strength linemate was David Krejci (by quite a margin, via Natural Stat Trick). Donato also saw time with Heinen and his Olympic teammate Brian Gionta.

Here’s one look at what the Bruins lineup might look like if Marchand and Heinen can both play:

It would certainly make some sense to keep Donato with Krejci, while DeBrusk might be able to jumpstart a struggling Riley Nash. Ideally, this alignment or a similar one would set up Donato & Co. to supplement that deadly top line, which could be especially important if Marchand isn’t all there (especially if Bergeron isn’t operating at full capacity, either).

“He steps off the bus and starts shooting”

In the video above this post’s headline, both Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones campaigned for Donato to be added to the lineup even before the decision was made.

They both make salient points, yet Jones’ comment about shooting is especially noteworthy considering how this series is going.

As Joe Haggerty notes in this NBC Sports Boston piece, the Lightning have generated a 104-73 shots on goal edge against the Bruins so far during this series. That would be a disturbing mismatch for just about any team, but it’s especially startling for a Bruins team that was a possession behemoth for much of the regular season.

Despite being limited to just 9:24 in ice time during his lone postseason appearance, Donato fired three shots on goal. While he enjoyed the sort of cushy offensive zone starts you’d expect from a young player during the regular season, Donato did his part in generating promising possession stats during the regular season.

There’s a lot to like in adding Donato back into the lineup, even if Cassidy eases him in and doesn’t quite give him the minutes to really soar.

***

With the Lightning up 2-1 in the series, there’s a lot on the line for the Bruins in Game 4 tonight. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. ET; you can watch the action on NBCSN and stream it via this link.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen begin playoffs as scratches

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Hype won’t always protect you from being a healthy scratch.

When it comes to some prominent late-season additions to potential Stanley Cup contenders, a spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed. That’s something Ryan Donato is experiencing with the Boston Bruins, and the same can be said of prized Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen. While NHL coaches are prone to throwing fastballs, it sure looks like those two young scorers will sit out Game 1 for their respective teams.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato the bigger surprise?

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Donato won’t be in the lineup, with Brian Gionta and Nick Holden also being out.

Donato probably has more reason to be irritated by the snub than Tolvanen. For one thing, Donato’s a little older at 22 (Tolvanen is just 18, he’s turning 19 on April 22). Donato’s already shown serious potential by scoring nine points in 12 games despite sometimes-limited ice time.

Also, Riley Nash is unable to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, so one might argue that the Bruins could find a spot for Donato. Take a look at the B’s projected bottom two lines, via Haggerty:

Danton Heinen / Noel Acciari / David Backes
Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Overall, the Bruins deserve a lot of credit for diving in feet-first with young players. They didn’t hesitate to put Charlie McAvoy in a prominent role right off the bat during last season’s playoffs, and guys like Heinen have been given opportunities to prove themselves.

Maybe this is a bit of a correction in that area, especially since the Bruins will face a team that can really exploit mistakes in the high-powered Maple Leafs. (Of course, the natural counterpoint is that you’d want more firepower on the ice to out-gun Toronto, in which case Donato would make a ton of sense).

For what it’s worth, Donato seemed to take a healthy attitude toward a healthy scratch, according to what he told Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald.

“I’m just going to keep working hard, and whenever they need me and my number is called, I’ll be ready to go,” Donato said. “I don’t really take it as an insult. I’ll just take it that the team has been good all year.”

Tolvanen a work in progress

While Donato’s been scoring at an impressive rate, things haven’t “clicked” yet for Tolvanen in the NHL.

The young Finn failed to score a goal or an assist through three regular-season games before getting scratched during the final two contests. Tolvanen’s only logged 36:20 of ice time so far at this level, generating his three shots on goal in his third game. In his first two contests, he didn’t even get a puck on net. To little surprise, his possession stats have been putrid over that tiny sample.

Tolvanen has only been with the Predators since late March, and this Nashville team was loaded without him. Consider that Scott Hartnell and a Calle Jarnkrok joined Tolvanen as potential scratches for Game 1 (though it’s worth noting that it seems like Jarnkrok is a little banged-up). Do note that, while Donato’s confirmed to be out, there’s an outside chance Tolvanen does play. It just seems improbable.

[Morning Skate: how will Predators deal with Nathan MacKinnon?]

In an ideal world, Tolvanen would have been able to gain more traction before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs began, but considering the fact that they lost Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala during last year’s run, Nashville can attest that injuries could open the door for the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Peter Laviolette said, according to the Tennessean’s Adam Vignan. “If anything, last year proves that more than ever. … We’re probably going to need everybody.”

***

These aren’t the easiest calls regarding Donato and Tolvanen. These aren’t just rookies vying for time; these are players who haven’t been with the Bruins and Predators for very long.

Still, the fears of them making mistakes against attacking opponents like the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche could be countered by the perks of getting more talent on the ice. Ultimately, their coaches will probably end up deploying them, especially if each squad enjoys deep playoff runs.

Thursday’s schedule

Lightning vs. Devils, 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA
Predators vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Ducks vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET – USA

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenDavid BackesNoel Acciari

Tim Schaller — Colby Cave — Brian Gionta

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugNick Holden

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

[Bruins – Bolts preview]

Tampa Bay Lightning

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

J.T. MillerTyler JohnsonCory Conacher

Yanni GourdeAnthony CirelliAlex Killorn

Chris KunitzCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor HedmanAnton Stralman

Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers

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NBC’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday, as the Philadelphia Flyers will host the Boston Bruins at 12:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH AT 12:30 P.M. ET]

PROJECTED LINES

Bruins: 

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenTommy WingelsDavid Backes

Tim SchallerNoel AcciariBrian Gionta

Zdeno CharaNick Holden

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

 [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Flyers: 

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott LaughtonMatt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek