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Playoff lineup, injury notes: Islanders lose Boychuk; Flames scratch Neal

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There were quite a few noteworthy lineup notes surrounding teams in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday, so let’s rattle them off.

Thomas Hickey seems to be the most likely immediate replacement for Boychuk. While both defensemen have enjoyed some nice years in the NHL, both have been on the decline. Hickey was limited to zero goals and four assists in 40 games this season after generally coming in at 20-ish points during his previous five campaigns with the Isles, while Boychuk’s ice time was down to 16:16 minute per game during the Islanders’ Round 1 sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the loss of Boychuk likely has more name value than on-ice impact.

Speaking of name value, allow a moment to dream. What if the Islanders instead turn to other Sebastian Ahoand the Hurricanes advance with far more famous Sebastian Aho? Would the Internet be forced to come up with something fresher than the Spiderman pointing meme for that? Might want to do some prep with all this time on your hands, Islanders fans.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

  • Maybe the Capitals feel like they need to bring back a playoff hero after seeing their 2-0 series lead against said Hurricanes dissolve into a 2-2 tie? They recalled Devante Smith-Pelly on Friday. Smith-Pelly scored eight points in 54 NHL games with the Capitals this season, and had been fairly productive (14 points in 20 games) with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. His seven goals during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run matched his seven goals from that 2017-18 regular season, so if DSP can carry over some of that playoff magic starting with Game 5 (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC [livestream]), the Caps would be very pleased. He’ll certainly be fighting to stay at the top level …
  • Could the Predators (another team locked in a 2-2 series tie) get some reinforcements back a lot sooner than anticipated? Both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds were recently considered week-to-week, and perhaps that was always a nebulous descriptor, as they at least were able to practice on Friday.

Interestingly, each player was wearing regular practice jerseys, which bodes reasonably well for the future, as that indicates that they could take body contact. There’s an enormous gulf between being able to practice and being ready for the sometimes-traumatic damage of playoff hockey, yet this is all pretty promising for the Preds.

With the Flames down 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche and facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream) this team badly needs a spark, and Neal really hasn’t been providing much of one basically since signing with the Flames. Neal failed to score a point through the first four games of this series, suffering through a -3 plus/minus, just 13:49 TOI on average, and not really excelling from a possession stats standpoint, either.

[To be fair, Neal is joined by Johnny Gaudreau and others as struggling Flames.]

One wonders if the Flames need to give Neal a pat on the back and say “We’ll get things back on track soon enough.” As mediocre as he’s been across the board, Neal also suffered from a terrible season luck-wise, managing just a five shooting percentage, way below his career average of 11.6. Maybe some of that is the aging curve, and maybe he’s depended upon some stellar linemates to grab his counting stats, but you’d have to figure that there’s some potential for a rebound … eventually. Perhaps just not this season?

Either way, it looks like Austin Czarnik is replacing Neal in the lineup. Hockey comes at you fast, gang.

For a rundown of Friday’s slate of playoff action, check out The Wraparound.

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.

Drouin denies any ‘bad blood’ with Cooper

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Jonathan Drouin denied any rift between himself and Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on Wednesday while speaking with the Tampa Bay Times.

“We have a good relationship, we talk a lot,” Drouin said. “There’s not bad blood towards each other. Everything’s perfect.”

The 20-year-old repeatedly stated that he communicates regularly with his head coach, maybe in part because of claims made about a week ago in the Toronto Sun:

In Round 2 of the playoffs, with Drouin clearly growing frustrated, Cooper was urged to meet with his player.

Normally, he avoids talking to or making eye contact with Drouin. Their meeting didn’t necessarily go well. Cooper told him it was a process to work his way into the Tampa lineup.

Of course, a very late scratch in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final brought more immediate attention to the situation (especially since he said he was in during a pregame interview). Drouin is doing well to avoid drama, although he admitted to Sportsnet that this is “not how he envisioned” a deep playoff run and that he’ll need to “force” Cooper to put him in the lineup.

Game 2 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final was likely Drouin’s best showing of the postseason, yet apparently the bad outweighed the good in Cooper’s eyes. More than a few observers noted a big turnover by Drouin.

His teammates noticed his energy, though.

“I think you saw that when he did get in the lineup the amount of energy (he had). Guys fed off that,” Steven Stamkos said. “He’s a guy that’s always ready if we need him. It’s pretty nice to have a guy with that much skill ready to go if need be.”

Ultimately, it all comes down to Cooper, but credit Drouin for avoiding added controversy.

Morrison, O’Donnell in, Mayers and Olsen out for Blackhawks

One can quibble with Chris Kuc’s assertion that this is a “big” change, but either way, the Chicago Blackhawks are tweaking their lower forward ranks by scratching tough winger Jamal Mayers for veteran center Brendan Morrison. Another notable alteration comes in depth defense as stable veteran blueliner Sean O’Donnell* swaps in for youngster Dylan Olsen.

On paper, these changes shouldn’t alter the balance of power. Then again, with all three games going to overtime already, it’s not crazy to say that little tweaks might make all the difference.

(Really, Brandon Saad could make the biggest impact of all the lineup tweaks, anyway.)

* – Whose name I always need to be careful in mentioning, because part of me always wants to call him Chris O’Donnell of Robin in “Batman Forever” infamy.

Capitals make Mike Knuble a healthy scratch in Game 1

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For a 39-year-old forward with plenty of notches on his belt like Mike Knuble, a playoff healthy scratch is probably a pretty sobering reality. That happens to be the case tonight as Stephen Whyno reports that the Washington Capitals are rolling with feisty winger Jay Beagle instead of Knuble.

Knuble has generated some of his career’s best work scoring the kind of “dirty” goals that are especially valuable in the playoffs. He had two tallies in six games last year and six points in the Capitals’ seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens in 2010.

Unfortunately for the pending free agent, he’s fallen on hard times this season, which is spotlighted in pretty convincing fashion by his absence in Game 1.

Devin Setoguchi lands in Minnesota’s doghouse

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Devin Setoguchi’s first season with the Minnesota Wild keeps getting worse as Michael Russo reports that the team made him a healthy scratch tonight for “disciplinary reasons.”

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t elaborate regarding what exactly got Setoguchi in the doghouse, but he said that more will be revealed following the Wild’s game against the San Jose Sharks, which is currently taking place on NBC Sports Network.

Even before this rough setback, it’s been a tough 2011-12. He missed about a month from early December to early January, but wasn’t particularly productive before that. Setoguchi only has eight goals and 14 points in 30 games, which is disappointing considering how desperate the Wild are for offense.

Perhaps Setoguchi can use this latest embarrassment to turn things around because things just haven’t gone well for the former Sharks winger.