Blackhawks on brink of elimination
The Chicago Blackhawks are not in a position they want to be in or imagined they would be. They are in a 3-0 series hole against the Nashville Predators in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series.
One more loss, as soon as Thursday in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-TN, CSN-CH), would mark the end of a season that held so much promise. The Blackhawks are the top seed in the West and held the second-best regular-season record in the League, behind the Washington Capitals.
If anyone can lead the Blackhawks out of this predicament, it is forward Patrick Kane. He has scored huge playoff goals throughout his NHL career, including a couple against these very Predators. Plus, as Kane said Wednesday, he needs to be the difference-maker and demand the puck more. No. 88 should be a treat to watch Thursday.
The Blackhawks may very well have a new look on Thursday as well. Defenseman Michal Kempny, scratched for the first three games of the series, could be in the Game 4 lineup. If that happens, it will be in an attempt to add a bit of speed to the defensive corps. Veteran Johnny Oduya, prior to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, could be scratched.
For Nashville, the key to their dominance has been their first line, which has driven possession throughout this series. The key to that first line is the new-and-improved Ryan Johansen. According to NHL.com correspondent Robby Stanley, Johansen is showing the side of his game that made Nashville general manager David Poile trade for the No. 1 center in 2016.
Another piece of that top line, forward Filip Forsberg, scored two goals in Game 3. Those goals, when they were scored and what they meant to the Predators, are the latest sign that Forsberg is evolving into an elite goal scorer, according to NHL.com Director of Editorial Shawn P. Roarke.
Flames, Wild hope to extend seasons
The Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild are each holding out slim hope they can overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win their Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Four teams in NHL history (2014 Los Angeles Kings, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, 1975 New York Islanders, 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs) have accomplished that feat.
In the Eastern Conference First Round, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins are each looking to even their series in Game 4.
Here are the top storylines prior to puck drop on the four playoff games Wednesday:
Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC) -- Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby should be good to play after colliding with teammate Marcus Johansson during the morning skate. NHL.com correspondent Dave McCarthy cites in his 5 keys to Game 4 how Maple Leafs defenseman Matt Hunwick has been able to manage his ice time in the absence of Roman Polak (lower body).
Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, USA, NESN) -- Bruins defenseman Colin Miller is expected to return to the lineup after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 1 and will be paired with John-Michael Liles. The Senators are 3-0-0 in Boston this season but will need to match the desperation of their opponent if they wish to take a 3-1 series lead, as noted in NHL.com correspondent Matt Kalman's 5 keys to Game 4.
Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues (9:30 p.m. ET; SN360, TVA Sports 2, NBCSN, FS-MW, FS-N) -- Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the skate that his lineup will remain the same as Game 3, meaning center Paul Stastny (lower body) will miss his 14th straight game. This is the eighth time in franchise history the Blues have led a series 3-0. St. Louis has swept their opponent on five occasions and have won their series in five games two other times. Blues goalie Jake Allen has stopped 114 of 117 shots and is the first in Blues history to win the first three games of a playoff series while allowing one goal or fewer in each game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Wild would like to open the scoring for the first time in this series to gain some momentum on the road, as NHL.com correspondent Louie Korac points out in his 5 keys to Game 4.
Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (10 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, USA, PRIME) -- Calgary forwards Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton will replace Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan in the lineup for Game 4. Flames goalie Brian Elliott, who has a 3.67 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in three games, is expected to start. The Ducks are 14-0-3 in the past 17 games, including 11-0-3 to end the regular season. They are 16-9 all-time in Game 4's and will look to finish the job, as NHL.com correspondent Aaron Vickers reports in his 5 keys to Game 4. Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen (upper body) participated in the skate but will not play.
Canadiens could get Emelin back
The Montreal Canadiens could be getting a boost to their lineup for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG).
Defenseman Alexei Emelin (lower body) skated with the Canadiens extras on Wednesday and coach Claude Julien did not rule out a possible return to the lineup in Game 5. Having Emelin return would allow Julien to sit Brandon Davidson, who replaced an ineffective Nikita Nesterov in Game 3 of the series but has played limited minutes.
The Canadiens spent much of the day Wednesday defending the play of their captain Max Pacioretty, who has not scored a goal in the series and is being widely criticized in Montreal.
In New York, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has had an incredible series after a regular season that was below his lofty standards. Senior writer Dan Rosen reports how Lundqvist is drawing motivation from going head to head with Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who has become the measuring stick Lundqvist used to be.
Sharks expect adjustments from Oilers
The San Jose Sharks are satisfied after a 7-0 rout of the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4. Their power play, which struggled in the first three games of the Western Conference First Round and underachieved in the regular season, went 4-for-8 to help them even the best-of-7 series.
That said, the Sharks know from their wealth of playoff experience -- good and bad -- that it doesn't get any easier from here.
Coach Peter DeBoer knows the Oilers will make adjustments and hopes the Sharks can avoid a letdown in Game 5 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS-CA).
Capitals get another scare
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a mostly uneventful morning skate with no expected lineup changes for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC). The same could not be said for the Capitals, who trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
It initially appeared the news from the Capitals' skate would be a small tweak of their line combinations. Forward Tom Wilson could move up from the fourth line to play with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller in place of Brett Connolly on the third line, with Connolly moving down to the fourth line with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle. Then, left wing Marcus Johansson accidentally ran over Braden Holtby during a drill, leaving the goaltender lying face down on the ice for about 20 seconds.
Everyone exhaled when Holtby got up and finished the morning skate with no issues. That returned the Capitals' focus to their pivotal Game 4. As Presidents' Trophy winners, they were the heavy favorites going in, but don't want to fall in a 3-1 series hole against the young Maple Leafs.
That would put even more pressure on the Capitals, who have not advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since making their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998.
"It's very rare when you see a team waltz their way all the way to the Stanley Cup. It doesn't happen. And if it does, it's very few and far between," said right wing Justin Williams, who won titles in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and in 2012 and 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings. "You go through adversity on your way there. I've been on a couple of championship teams down 0-2, down 0-3, so you rally around it.
"There's a lot of times during the playoffs where you need to man up and win a game and the pressure is on. This is one of them, obviously."
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner will miss his second straight game because of an upper-body injury, but went on the ice at the end of the morning skate. It was his first time skating since Game 2 on Saturday. NHL.com Correspondent Dave McCarthy has the 5 keys to Game 4.
Bruins get help on defense
After the Boston Bruins lost four defenseman in a four-game span from the end of the regular season to the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round, they are finally expecting to get one of them back.
That would be Colin Miller (lower body), who will return for Game 4 against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, NESN). He will likely replace Tommy Cross, who came up from Providence of the American Hockey League to make his playoff debut Monday.
The Senators will stick with the same lineup from Game 3, including 6-foot-6 defenseman Ben Harpur, who impressed coach Guy Boucher in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game.
With the Bruins hoping to even the series in Game 4, Boucher said the Senators need to do their best to match Boston's desperation. He noted the three games Tuesday were won by home teams trailing in their respective series (Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks). That will be an important point of emphasis for the Senators in their bid to take control of the series.
Ducks and Blues look to advance
The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues each look to complete four-game sweeps in the Western Conference First Round and become the first teams to advance to the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators each have an opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead.
Here's a look at the playoff games for Wednesday:
Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports 2, NBCSN, CSN-DC) -- The Capitals, who trail the series 2-1, will be without defenseman Karl Alzner for a second straight game because of an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt is expected to replace him in the lineup. According to staff writer Tom Gulitti, Capitals coach Barry Trotz plans to give captain Alex Ovechkin more ice time. Ovechkin played 15:08 in a 4-3 double-overtime loss in Game 3 on Monday, but had one goal and five shots on goal. Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri had a goal, an assist and six hits in the win and has played a big role in this series, according to correspondent Dave McCarthy.
Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, USA, NESN) -- The Senators lead the series 2-1 after Bobby Ryan scored on a power play 5:43 into overtime for a 4-3 win to give them back-to-back overtime victories for the first time. As staff writer Amalie Benjamin reports, Ryan is playing rejuvenated hockey this season. The Bruins are seeking a better start in Game 4, according to correspondent Matt Kalman. Bruins defenseman Colin Miller, out since sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 1, practiced Tuesday and is close to returning to the lineup.
Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues (9:30 p.m. ET; SN360, TVA Sports 2, NBCSN, FS-MW, FS-N) -- Blues center Paul Stastny, out since March 21 because of a foot injury, practiced Tuesday but remains questionable. The Blues are looking to sweep an opponent for the sixth time in franchise history and first time since the 2001 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Stars. The Blues have never trailed at any point during the series (197:48) and have held the lead for 103:51 of total playing time, in large part because of the play of goaltender Jake Allen (3-0, 0.91 goals-against average, .974 save percentage). Wild coach Bruce Boudreau likely will make a few lineup adjustments. Center Mikko Koivu and right wing Mikael Granlund, who have been linemates since Nov. 25, were split during practice Tuesday, according to correspondent Jessi Pierce.
Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (10 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, USA, PRIME) -- The Ducks overcame a three-goal deficit to win a playoff game for the first time when forward Corey Perry scored 1:30 into overtime for a 4-3 win in Game 3 on Monday. As staff writer Lisa Dillman reports, Ducks rookie defenseman Shea Theodore and veteran forward Nate Thompson have served as secret weapons this postseason. The big question for the Flames entering Game 4 is who their starting goaltender will be. Coach Glen Gulutzan is undecided between Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson and Jon Gillies, according to correspondent Aaron Vickers. Elliott is 0-3 with a 3.67 GAA and .887 save percentage in the series after allowing five goals on 27 shots in Game 3.
Blue Jackets stay alive
Three teams entered Tuesday needing wins, and all three got them. The Columbus Blue Jackets avoided getting swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins with a win at Nationwide Arena, while the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks each won at home to avoid falling behind 3-1 in their respective series.Here's a look at what happened on Tuesday:
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 4
The Blue Jackets won a playoff game in regulation for the first time in their history, staying alive against the Penguins. William Karlsson, Boone Jenner and Markus Nutivaara each had a goal and an assist and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves.
Video: Jackets stave off elimination with 5-4 win vs. Pens
New York Rangers 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
The Rangers ended a six-game playoff losing streak at home, getting even with the Canadiens thanks to goals by Jesper Fast and Rick Nash and 23 saves by Henrik Lundqvist. Montreal's Shea Weber nearly tied the game with 1:18 left in the game when he hit the post with a slap shot.
San Jose Sharks 7, Edmonton Oilers 0
Who said the Sharks couldn't score? After being shut out in two straight games, San Jose poured it on Tuesday, chasing Oilers goalie Cam Talbot in the second period. Just like that, this series is 2-2 and has a whole new feel to it.
Video: Power play fuels Sharks' Game 4 rout of Oilers
What we learned on Day 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Rangers can win a playoff game at home
The last time the Rangers won a playoff game at Madison Square Garden was May 16, 2015, when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Before Tuesday, they had lost six in a row and were outscored 21-4 in. More recently, the Rangers had lost nine of their previous 11 games at the Garden (2-6-3). But as center Derek Stepan said following the game, "Look at this, we've got a win streak at home now."
Henrik Lundqvist has found his game
After a subpar regular season, at least by his standards, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been excellent through four games in this series. He has 1.89 goals-against average and .944 save percentage with 134 saves on 142 shots against. He made 23 saves in Game 4. After coming unglued at times during the regular season, the expectation for Lundqvist should again be that he will be the Rangers' best player, a necessity considering Carey Price is seemingly always the Canadiens' best player.
Video: MTL@NYR, Gm4: Lundqvist stones Gallagher in front
Columbus can match up against Crosby
The Blue Jackets' line of Matt Calvert, William Karlsson and Josh Anderson matched up well against the Penguins' top line of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary in Game 4. Karlsson scored a goal and had an assist. Anderson scored a goal and Calvert had an assist in his return from a one-game suspension. Crosby's line was held off the scoresheet until Guentzel scored a shorthanded goal with 27.5 seconds left.
Marc-Andre Fleury looks shaky
Fleury, playing in place of injured Matt Murray, allowed four goals in regulation in Game 3 and five more in Game 4. After the Penguins cut the Blue Jackets' lead from 3-0 to 3-2 in the second period, Fleury was slow to get back into position after a puck caromed off the end boards and allowed Karlsson to score 27 seconds into the third period, killing his team's momentum.
Law of averages prevailed
The Sharks were shut out for 120 minutes in Games 2 and 3. That included plenty of excellent goaltending by Edmonton's Cam Talbot as well as a fair amount of misfiring by San Jose's shooters. There was no guarantee that would revert to average levels in Game 4, but experienced veterans such as Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture and defenseman Brent Burns were bound to get something going at some point. The seven goals San Jose scored in Game 4 certainly put a different complexion on the rest of the series.
Small things matter
It seems very small in terms of the final result, but a savvy play by Sharks captain Joe Pavelski a few seconds into the game started an avalanche rolling at SAP Center. Pavelski scrambled an offensive-zone draw against Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, but Sharks forward Patrick Marleau jumped into the circle to win the puck back to the point. Pavelski slipped into the middle of the ice, finding a soft spot between the coverage of McDavid and defenseman Oscar Klefbom, and tipped Justin Braun's point shot past Talbot for his first goal of the series. The goal 15 seconds into the game triggered a tidal wave of momentum for the Sharks, who had not led at all during regulation time of the first three games.