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PHT Morning Skate: Jets making statement; Kuznetsov’s rise to stardom

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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.

• Game 1 of the Western Conference Final started and ended in disappointment for the Vegas Golden Knights. They did a lot of things that they don’t normally do in games. (SinBin.Vegas)

• The Golden Knights have also increased the NHL’s notoriety when it comes to Las Vegas sports books. (ESPN)

• The Winnipeg Jets made a statement when they eliminated the Nashville Predators in Game 7 of the second round. With just four teams remaining, they’ve become the team to beat in the NHL. (TSN)

• Jets head coach Paul Maurice has been mic’d up for the NHL’s “Quest to the Stanley Cup” Youtube series. He has a colorful personality, but he’d rather not be wearing a mic when he’s working. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• In order to get Evgeny Kuznetsov to the next level during his rookie season, Barry Trotz got Pavel Datsyuk to talk to him. The conversation did wonders and Kuznetsov has turned into an impact player for the Capitals. (Sportsnet)

Mike Fisher is hanging up his skates (again). It sounds like he really means it this time. (NHL.com)

• Former University of Alberta coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Clare Drake died on Sunday. During his 28-year career, no college coach won more games than he did. (CBC)

• Naming Kyle Dubas as general manager was a risky decision for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only does he have some tough work ahead of him this offseason, he also has to find a way to make them legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. (Toronto Star)

• Now that Dubas got the GM job in Toronto, the Montreal Canadiens should try to land Mark Hunter from the Leafs. The Habs need a jolt in their front office and Hunter could certainly provide that. (A Winning Habit)

• Canucks top prospect Elias Pettersson suffered a broken thumb at the World Hockey Championship. His tournament is over. (Vancourier)

• The Buffalo Sabres have a lot of holes to fill on their roster, but their top priority heading into next season should be finding secondary scoring. (Die by the Blade)

• The New York Islanders certainly need to go in a different direction in a hurry and adding Lou Lamoriello to their front office might help them get to where they want to go. (New York Post)

• The Chicago Blackhawks have two first-rounders (eighth and 27th overall). They should hang on to their top 10 pick, but they should also consider using the 27th pick as trade bait to upgrade their roster immediately. (Chicago Sports Column)

• The AHL conference finals are all set. Toronto will be playing Lehigh Valley in the East, while Texas will go head-to-head against Rockford. Check out the schedule for each series. (AHL)

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.

WATCH LIVE: Jets, Predators meet in Game 7

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Game 7: Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Stream here

Series preview
Mike Fisher will not play Game 7 for Predators
Forsberg continues scoring ‘unbelievable goals’ for Preds
What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?
Preds, Jets lean heavily on Rinne, Hellebuyck in Game 7
Jets, Predators set the stage for what should be incredible Game 7

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Mike Fisher will not play Game 7 for Predators

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that center Mike Fisher will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of their series against the Winnipeg Jets. The team has him listed as “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury.

The 37-year-old Fisher came out of retirement late in the regular season and played in 16 games for the Predators, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He appeared in each of the team’s first 12 playoff games, scoring one goal while playing just a little under 12 minutes per night. He played just 2:58 in the Predators’ Game 6 win in Winnipeg before exiting the game after the first period with the injury.

His only goal in the series came in the Predators’ Game 3 loss in Winnipeg.

Given Fisher’s workload and role this postseason it is not a totally damaging blow to the Predators’ chances in Game 7, especially given that they already have Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and Nick Bonino playing down the middle, but it does create a hole on the team’s fourth line.

More Jets-Predators

Jets, Predators set the stage for what should be incredible Game 7

Jets, Predators lean heavily on Rinne-Hellebuyck

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Jets, Predators

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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After reaching the Stanley Cup Final a year ago the Nashville Predators went all in on adding to what was already a top-line championship contender. They signed Nick Bonino and Scott Hartnell in free agency, traded for Kyle Turris early in the year, and then added at the deadline by paying a steep price for Ryan Hartman from the Chicago Blackhawks and bringing Mike Fisher back out of retirement.

All of those additions to a team that already had Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and what is probably the best defense in the NHL made them a team that was not only the NHL’s best during the regular season, but one that was probably the favorite to reach — and potentially win — the Stanley Cup Final.

The latter point could still very well end up happening, but they enter Monday’s Game 6 (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) in Winnipeg facing a must-win situation, needing to win back-to-back games against a Jets team that has given them fits in their second-round series.

The big story for the Predators has been their inability to figure out a solution for the Jets’ offensive attack, having already allowed 22 goals in the first five games of the series. There is always that debate of what wins in the playoffs: Offense or defense, and so far in this series the team with the best offense has the upper hand.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The easy thing to do from a Predators perspective is point the finger sharply in the direction of starting goalie Pekka Rinne given his .898 save percentage for the postseason, a number that drops down to an even worse .886 in this series alone. Simply put, he has not been great.

Rinne was spectacular for the Predators through the first three rounds of their Stanley Cup Final run a season ago before getting lit up at the worst possible time against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He came back this season with a spectacular regular season performance that made him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, but has again run into some issues against a high-scoring team with a dynamic offense that moves the puck well.

The Predators, however, are not pointing the finger at their goalie and ahead of Monday’s Game 6 were putting more of the responsibility on the team in front of him.

“They will get better as soon as we get better in front of him,” said head coach Peter Laviolette on Monday, when asked about Rinne’s numbers this postseason.

“If you can go back to last game and tell me which one you’re really faulting Pekka Rinne on, then I’ll be happy to sit down and watch it with you. You can go through an awful lot of them where the same things happened. When we’re good in front of him, he’s a great goaltender. I feel like the onus is on us as a team to make sure there we’re complete with our game, and again, because of the opponent, it has to be that way.”

One of the problems for the Predators in this series has been an inability to slow the Jets down once their offense gets rolling. One goal has been quickly followed by a second goal and then things completely start to unravel for the Predators.

“It starts as a group,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. “We never ever look at our goaltender. When we’re allowing the goals we’re allowing, it’s as a group, it’s not one specific individual. It’s all of us. And it’s not like it’s happening over a full 60 minutes. It’s a matter of three or four minutes where these things are happening. For us, like I said, the focus has to be on a full 60 minutes. If we do that, we’re going to like the result at the end of the night.

The Predators have had a couple of stretches in this series where they have given up goals in bunches to completely change the direction of a game, and perhaps the series as a whole. In Game 1 they gave up two goals in an eight-minute stretch in the second period that proved to be the difference in a game the Predators absolutely dominated on the shot chart.

In Game 2 they gave up two goals in less than a minute, but were able to come back and win in double overtime.

In Game 3 they allowed what was a three-goal lead to evaporate when they allowed the Jets to score three goals in the first six minutes of the second period on their way to a come-from-behind blowout win.

In Game 5 it was four goals in 10 minutes, including three in a five-minute stretch in the first period.

The thing about all of this is that it is very similar to how the Predators ended up losing the Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins a year ago when they had similar short-term meltdowns in three of their four losses.

Two things can be true here: The Predators can absolutely clean things up in front of their goalie and not play a game that has structural breakdowns that give the Jets opportunities to get their offense rolling. If you have the best defense in the league, you can be better.

Rinne can also be better. Saying that is not the same as putting all of the blame on him, either. It is just a statement of fact. He can be better.

Given the way this matchup has gone — both through the regular season and the playoffs — it seems unlikely at this point that the Predators are going to find a way to completely shut down the Jets offense. They are going to get their chances, they are going to generate shots. This is what they do and what they have done all season against every team.

But it is not like the Predators have not been able to do the same. The shots on goal in the series are virtually identical (the Predators actually have a 188-179 edge), and it’s not like the Predators haven’t had their Grade A chances in what has at times been a back-and-forth, run-and-gun matchup. The biggest difference at the end of the day, though, is that Connor Hellebuyck in the Jets’ crease has been able to put a .925 save percentage on the board.

If the Predators are going to move on they are going to need Rinne to at least come close to matching his counterpart at the other end of the ice. If he doesn’t, they may not have a chance to win. That is not necessarily a slight on him as much as it is a testament to how good the Jets’ offense has been and currently is.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WWE’s Chris Jericho challenges Carrie Underwood to Jets-Predators bet

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The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs stoke some great rivalries.

Last night, we enjoyed the latest, twist-filled chapter in Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. There was a Battle of Pennsylvania and a Battle of California in the first round.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

So what about … Chris Jericho vs. Carrie Underwood? No, this isn’t the latest wrinkle on “The Mixed Match Challenge,” although it would be fascinating to find out what kind of gimmick Mike Fisher would run with. Instead, it turns out that Jericho (on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets) called out Underwood (Nashville Predators, of course) to put together a friendly, $10K wager. Here’s the Instagram post from the pro wrestler/sports entertainer/Fozzy singer:

All right @carrieunderwood…what should we wager? @nhljets @predsnhl #GoJetsGo #Y2Jets

A post shared by Chris Jericho (@chrisjerichofozzy) on

As Global News notes, Jericho said that he’d donate that $10K to a charity devoted to treating Type 1 Diabetes.

So far, it doesn’t seem like Underwood has responded either way. Maybe Jericho needs to win the Intercontinental Title first? He’s certainly cutting a promo on Fisher to try to get more attention on the wager, stating that Underwood is “married to a fourth-line winger,” which you’d think would get Y2J on her list.

Both seem pretty busy, but here’s to this bet being honored.

Maybe Jericho needs to put his scarf on the line?

The Predators have seen their fair share of pro wrestlers show up at games, so maybe Jericho could shift his sights to Rusev? Hey, there’s still plenty of time to make another challenge …

Game 1 of Jets – Predators airs on NBCSN very soon. Click here for the livestream.

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.