PHT Morning Skate: EA Sports predicts the Ducks will win the cup

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

EA Sports’ NHL 15 simulation engine predicts the Anaheim Ducks will win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history this spring defeating the New York Rangers in seven games. According to the simulator, Anaheim will require seven games in each round knocking off the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild before dispatching Rangers in the final. Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf will take home the Conn Smythe Trophy scoring nine goals and 26 points in 28 games.(EA Sports)

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In attempt to reduce the number of Habs’ fans attending games in Ottawa during the first round of the playoffs, the Senators pulled a page out of the book of both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators and restricted who could purchase tickets. However, the restrictions on billing addresses have created a huge secondary market online. (The Hockey News)

Another day, another Calgary Flames-themed parody song. This time a couple of Flames’ fans teamed up for a Flames-themed rendition of ‘It’s all about the Bass’.

This probably isn’t the Stanley Cup Canadiens fans are hoping for this spring, but a Montreal bar has made a replica of the trophy out of bacon.

PGA Tour member, and noted Calgary Flames fan, Graham DeLaet has added a sign of his allegiance to his clubs:

(Photo courtesy EA Sports)

Pressing Playoff Question: Which coaches are coaching for their jobs?

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Ken Hitchcock

Hitch has been on notice since last year’s opening-round exit — St. Louis’ second in as many years — and he confirmed it earlier this month, explaining that his future is tied to getting out of Round 1.

“There’s always going to be a question for players and coaches until we win a first round. But it’s a question I’m not afraid to answer,” Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know the answer right now but this team is built to go long in series, long in games. We’ve won a lot of games late. We’ve been at our best in the second and third periods. We know we can go the distance.

“Like everyone else I won’t know until it plays out but I’m looking forward to answering the questions.”

St. Louis is 8-13 over its last three playoffs, a record that gnaws at management. The Blues have spent plenty of money on its core group of players, and added high-priced free agent Paul Stastny following the Chicago ouster. The pieces are in place for a Cup run — now — which is why Hitchcok was delivered a message in the form of a one-year extension last May.

That message?

“Making the playoffs no longer is good enough,” Blues GM Armstrong said. “There’s some franchises that are losing in the first round that had good years. We’re not one of them.

“We’re a franchise that lost in the first round that did not meet its expectations.”

Mike Johnston

Consider, for a moment, what Johnston said upon getting hired in Pittsburgh:

“The bottom-line expectation for me is that, from training camp through the first part of the season, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs. The score is relevant, but it’s not as relevant as the habits that we are going to have to make us successful in the playoffs.

“This is a group that wants to win. They’ve won the Stanley Cup, and I believe they want to do it again.”

The first-year bench boss set the bar with those remarks, and it remains to be seen what happens if he falls short.

We almost got a preview of it on the final day of the regular season, only for Pittsburgh to beat Buffalo and secure the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. While it was hardly the type of qualification many — including Johnston — envisioned, the Pens did make it to the dance (and there is something to be said for that, especially since L.A. and Boston didn’t.)

But as Johnston said, his job wasn’t about getting Pittsburgh into the playoffs. It was about doing something once they got there — and now, things get interesting.

Last week, Pens GM Jim Rutherford didn’t give Johnston a vote of confidence, though that was because Rutherford doesn’t like votes of confidence. Regarding the head coach’s job security, Rutherford said Johnston did “a good job under difficult circumstances.” CEO David Morehouse said much of the same, explaining that “we never even had discussions about people’s jobs,” adding, “we’re very happy to be where we are.”

Management is giving all the right answers, but it’s telling that people are asking the questions.

Bruce Boudreau

Boudreau has a great track record in the regular season, with 363 career wins and a Jack Adams trophy on his resume.

Boudreau does not, however, have the same track record in the playoffs.

His lifetime mark — 27-30, a .474 winning percentage — includes just three series wins and zero appearances beyond the second round.

What’s worrisome this year is that a recurring issue throughout Boudreau’s career — goaltending — is once again a factor. He’s yet to decide between John Gibson or Frederik Andersen as his postseason starter, carrying on a rich and colorful tradition:

• In 2009, his second playoff appearance with Washington, Boudreau yanked Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov.

• In 2010, after vowing “there is no short leash” for Theodore, Boudreau yanked him in favor of Varlamov. Again.

• In 2014, he played three different netminders. Andersen started the Dallas series, only for Boudreau to shift to Jonas Hiller. Hiller then beat the Stars, started the L.A. series, only for Boudreau to go back to Andersen… and the Danish netminder promptly got hurt. But instead of going back to Hiller, Boudreau threw in Gibson, fresh off a recall from the AHL.

• The Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead, and lost to the Kings in Game 7.

History, as they say, has a way of repeating itself. Wonder what happens in Anaheim if it does.

Have to mention…

Mike Babcock, who isn’t so much coaching for his job as the Red Wings are playing for him to remain their coach… Jack Capuano, who could be feeling some heat if the Isles don’t show much in the opening playoff round.

Giordano (torn biceps) skates, but playoff return still a longshot

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Calgary captain Mark Giordano, thought to be lost for the season after tearing his biceps in early March, took to the ice on Monday and offered a glimmer of hope for a playoff return.

“I’m trying to stay in shape and condition. I have to meet with the surgeon a bunch more times before that becomes a reality, but I feel good,” he said, per the Calgary Sun. “I feel like hopefully the rehab is going better than expected, but it’s still a bit early for that. I really have to start gaining my strength and stuff back.

“Hopefully we go really deep and then we have a decision to make.”

It’s not surprising Giordano’s clinging to hopes of a return. When he initially suffered the injury — which requires 4-5 months of rehab — the 31-year-old tried to see if he could play through the tear and hold off surgery ’til the summer.

“The doctors weren’t too optimistic, but they said there’s a tiny chance [that I could keep playing],” Giordano explained at the time, per the Calgary Sun. “I was sort of pushing to try it out and see how it felt, but when you get out there you realize right away that there’s little chance you can compete at the level you need to.

“So I came back home and saw another doctor, talked it over and I think surgery’s probably my only option.”

A first-time All-Star, Giordano was Calgary’s undisputed leader through the first six months of the season, playing a ton of minutes (over 25 a night) while leading all NHL defensemen in scoring at the time of his injury. His return would be a major boon for the Flames, but that definitely sounds like a longshot — especially in light of what Flames GM Brad Treliving said this afternoon.

“We know where Mark’s injury is at,” he explained. “[His potential return] is down the road a little bit. Our first priority with Mark is making sure we’re staying with the proper rehab procedure.

Treliving then went on to say that a Giordano comeback isn’t “anything that’s weighing on our minds.”

Video: Bennett gets first point on first NHL shift

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Sam Bennett made his NHL debut for the Calgary Flames today and it didn’t take him long to record his first point. More precisely, it took him 33 seconds.

In his first career shift, Bennett was able to steal the puck from Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson behind the net and then attempted a wraparound shot. Hutchinson managed to block it with his stick, but that put Michael Ferland in a position to complete the scoring play:

This game represents the end of a difficult journey for Bennett to reach the NHL. Although it initially looked like he might participate in the Flames’ season opener after being taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery made that impossible. Instead Bennett had to work his way through a lengthy recovery process and once he was healthy enough to play, he went back to the OHL Kingston Frontenacs.

Bennett was finally able to rejoin the Flames after scoring 11 goals and 24 points in 11 OHL games.

Three reasons for Ottawa’s improbable playoff berth

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The Ottawa Senators capped off their Cinderella story on Saturday, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a fairytale, to say the least.

Seven weeks ago, the idea of Ottawa playing past Apr. 11 was pure fantasy. The Sens were 10 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 17, but then proceeded to go 21-3-3 — not a typo — to surge into the postseason.

So, how did they get it done?

1: The Hamburglar

The biggest and most obvious reason is the play of Andrew Hammond, the 27-year-old undrafted goalie that took the starting reins in mid-February and proceeded to go on the run of a lifetime. Saturday’s win in Philly pushed Hammond to a remarkable 20-1-2 on the year — yes, just one regulation loss — with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Oh, and three shutouts.

“It’s unbelievable,” Ottawa center Kyle Turris said, per Yahoo. “I’ve never seen a guy come in and make an impact like that and change the season around.”

2: The coaching switch

Remember, this wasn’t a popular move at the time. The Senators took plenty of heat for turfing head coach Paul MacLean on Dec. 8; though they appeared listless at times — and had just an 11-11-5 record — MacLean was held in high regard and just two years removed from winning the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

But the switch to Dave Cameron paid dividends.

Sens GM Bryan Murray described Cameron as “a teacher,” and projected he’d mesh well with a young Senators team that MacLean often chided. The overall sense was Cameron would better relate to young players, whereas MacLean’s tell-it-like-it-is style — though entertaining — started to wear on the group.

“I thought when [MacLean] came here he was a guy that related very well to the players,” Murray explained. “He had been a player himself. He understood what it took to play in the NHL. But it seemed that kind of drifted. Maybe it’s the pressure of the business here. Maybe you guys are too tough on our people.

“But very definitely he became more demanding of some of the players, and more critical of some of the players.”

Cameron took over with 55 games left in the regular season. Since then, the Sens have gone 32-15-8.

3: The kids

This one’s in lockstep with No.2. Whereas MacLean was nervous about his roster — “I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing,” he infamously uttered just prior to his firing — Cameron embraced Ottawa’s youth and gave the kids bigger roles.

The biggest beneficiary? Mark Stone.

Stone, Ottawa’s rookie forward, has blossomed under Cameron — he scored 35 points over Ottawa’s last 31 games of the year and pushed himself into a Calder Trophy conversation that, for most of the season, had been comprised of Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad and Filip Forsberg.

As the season went along, Stone became a vital part of this team. He got decent minutes from MacLean, but nothing like what he’s received from Cameron; Stone had at least 20 minutes in four straight games from Mar. 31 to Apr. 7, and seemed to thrive with the increased workload — in Saturday’s win over Philly, he scored the opening marker and insurance tally for his 25th and 26th goals of the year.

“Stone has definitely developed into a solid player,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, per the Sun. “He just keeps raising the bar for himself and that’s what you want from a player to keep challenging yourself.

“I really think he has done that and we can’t really ask him to do much more than he has.”

To be fair, the Sens relied on more youngsters than just Stone. Fellow rookie Mike Hoffman has been great while the likes of Curtis Lazar (19 years old) Mika Zibanejad (21), Cody Ceci (21) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (22) all found increased roles under Cameron, and responded well.

Also — in the interest of fairness — credit has to go to Ottawa’s scouting department. While Ceci, Lazar and Zibanejad were first-rounders, the likes of Stone (178th overall in 2010), Hoffman (130th overall in 2009) and Pageau (96th overall in 2011) were all late-round finds.