Thursday playoff primer
The Nashville Predators, who began play in 1998-99 and are competing in their 13th Stanley Cup Playoff series, are aiming for their first-ever sweep when they host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 on Thursday. The Pittsburgh Penguins look to eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5, and the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers each looks to take a 3-2 lead in their respective series on home ice.
Here are the key talking points entering the four-game playoff schedule for Thursday:
New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG) -- NHL.com's Arpon Basu is reporting Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin will likely play his first game of the playoffs since sustaining a lower-body injury April 5. He could replace Brandon Davidson in the lineup and partner with Nathan Beaulieu. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 2-2 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the series. The Rangers will have the same lineup as they had in Game 4. For projected line combinations for the Rangers and Canadiens, check out NHL.com Correspondent Sean Farrell's 5 keys to Game 5.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O) -- How will Penguins captain Sidney Crosby respond after being held without a shot on goal in a 5-4 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday? That is one of the 5 keys to Game 5, according to NHL.com Correspondent Wes Crosby. The Blue Jackets and Penguins have combined to score 27 goals over the first four games. Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel leads the NHL with five postseason goals, and Evgeni Malkin leads the League with eight points.
Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-TN, CSN-CH) -- NHL.com Correspondent Robby Stanley reported in his 5 keys to Game 4 that the Predators want to come out of the gate with a killer instinct to complete the four-game sweep. This is the second time Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been down 3-0 in a best-of-7 series. The last time it happened was against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Western Conference First Round; the Blackhawks won three straight but lost Game 7 in overtime (2-1).
In other news, NHL.com Director of Editorial Shawn Roarke asked Predators captain Mike Fisher if his wife, Carrie Underwood, would sing the national anthem again prior to puck drop at Bridgestone Arena. Fisher said to Roarke, with a laugh: "If I told you, I would have to kill you." We'll find out after warmup.
San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS-CA) -- Oilers coach Todd McLellan will have new line combinations following a 7-0 loss in Game 4. Left wing Drake Caggiula will play with captain Connor McDavid and right wing Leon Draisaitl on the top line, according to NHL.com Staff Writer Tim Campbell. Left wing Patrick Maroon, who's usually with McDavid, will skate with center Mark Letestu and right wing Zack Kassian. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer had Mikkel Boedker skating with center Logan Couture and left wing Jannik Hansen. For the projected lineups, check out NHL.com Correspondent Derek Van Diest's 5 keys to Game 5. Boedker, a healthy scratch the past two games, could replace forward Joonas Donskoi, who has one assist and is minus-3 in four games this series.
Chicago trying to find magic
One week ago, the Chicago Blackhawks could not have imagined the situation they now face.
Down 3-0 to the Nashville Predators in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series, they need to win four straight games, beginning with Game 4 on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-TN, CSN-CH).
They are scrambling for a way out.
The Blackhawks could look different once again. Although coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't confirm it, there is a distinct possibility that defenseman Michal Kempny could make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut for Chicago. He would either be a direct substitution for Johnny Oduya, who has struggled in this series, or the Blackhawks could go with seven defensemen.
Oilers alter McDavid's line
The Edmonton Oilers will change their top line for the second time in their Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks.
Forward Drake Caggiula has been moved up to play with center Connor McDavid and right wing Leon Draisaitl for Game 5 at Rogers Place on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS-CA).
Left wing Patrick Maroon, who doesn't have a point in the series, will start Game 5 on a line with center Mark Letestu and right wing Zack Kassian.
During Game 3 in San Jose, Oilers coach Todd McLellan shifted his lines, moving Draisaitl off McDavid's line to play with Kassian and Caggiula. Then, McLellan moved Anton Slepyshev from the fourth line to McDavid's line.
Slepyshev is back on the fourth line with center David Desharnais and left wing Benoit Pouliot to start Game 5.
McDavid has two points in the series (one goal, one assist) and no points in the past two games. Edmonton has two 5-on-5 goals in the series.
After the worst margin of defeat in the Oilers' Stanley Cup Playoff history, they will try to flush any memory of their 7-0 loss against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 on Tuesday. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.
The Oilers weren't interested in rehashing Game 4 after their morning skate Thursday, but know they must take fewer penalties. After going 1-for-14 on the power play in the first three games of the series, San Jose went 4-for-8 in Game 4.
Canadiens, Rangers need more offensively
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin is likely to return to the 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).
Emelin, who has not played since April 5 because of a lower-body injury, could add a rugged element to the Montreal lineup if he's declared fit to play after warmups, as LNH.com Senior Managing Editor Arpon Basu explains.
Each team's top regular-season goal scorer, Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens and Chris Kreider of the Rangers, has yet to score in the series. The first to break out of his slump could make the difference in the series.
Pacioretty addressed his lack of scoring Thursday and isn't overly concerned about it, focusing instead on the other parts of his game that are helping the Canadiens succeed.
Bruins feel close despite 3-1 deficit
Whether you're the Ottawa Senators or the Boston Bruins, it's all about winning one game. The Senators don't want to allow the Bruins any rope, hoping to close out their Eastern Conference First Round series in Game 5 on Friday in front of their home fans at Canadian Tire Centre (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, NESN).
The feeling is different in Boston.
The Bruins players who played in Game 4 did not take the ice Thursday, mostly trying to get some rest and separation before heading to Ottawa with a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-7 series. They are facing a true must-win game with their season on the line Friday.
"The way we've lost a lot of those games is we're right there," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It's the difference in the game of a play or two. It's not like they've dominated."
That's what the Bruins are taking heart in as they prepare for Game 5: that either team could have won each of the games this series. But they also know all that will matter Friday is whether they win or not. Their season depends on it.
Tortorella stands by his goalie
For the third straight day, Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella answered questions about goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's struggles during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And for the third straight day, Tortorella acknowledged those struggles but backed Bobrovsky up.
"I know there's a little bit of chatter out there about [Bobrovsky]," Tortorella said during the Blue Jackets' morning skate ahead of Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O). "He's a hell of a goalie. He is the backbone of our team. We don't have a sniff as far as where we are as a team if it doesn't start with him. So we are very comfortable going into this situation tonight, another elimination game, that he is going to be our goalie."
Columnist Nick Cotsonika has some of the chatter, breaking down Bobrovsky's struggles against the high-powered Penguins offense. Cotsonika also wrote about Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but in that case, the chatter comes from Fleury himself.
Penguins and Predators look to advance
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators can follow the Anaheim Ducks into the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday. The Penguins lead the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series, and the Predators host the Chicago Blackhawks with a 3-0 Western Conference First Round series lead. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens are even 2-2, as are the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks.
Here's a look at the four games on tap for Thursday:
New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, USA, MSG) -- How critical is Game 5? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, when teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 playoff series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 193-54 (78.1 percent). The Canadiens hope to have defenseman Alexei Emelin back in the lineup for the first time since he sustained a lower-body injury on April 5. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is getting extra motivation from playing against Canadiens goalie Carey Price, according to senior writer Dan Rosen.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports 2, NHLN, ROOT, FS-O) -- After earning its first postseason victory in regulation in Game 4 to avoid being swept, the Columbus Blue Jackets must now win on the road to keep their season alive. Columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika explains how Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky must be the best player on the ice in order for his team to even have a chance. The Penguins are looking to tighten up defensively in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, as reported by correspondent Wes Crosby.
Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators (8 p.m. ET; SN360, TVA Sports 3, NBCSN, FS-TN, CSN-CH) -- Is the pressure really on the Predators, who finished as the second wild card in the Western Conference and need one win to eliminate the Blackhawks, who finished as the No. 1 seed in the conference? The Blackhawks think so. Coach Joel Quenneville may make a change on defense for Game 4. He had Michal Kempny paired with Brent Seabrook at practice Thursday, according to correspondent Brian Hedger. Kempny, who played in four of the Blackhawks' final 17 regular-season games, would replace Johnny Oduya in the lineup.
San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (10:30 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, NBCSN, NBCSCA) -- The Sharks rebounded from consecutive shutout losses with a 7-0 win in Game 4 to even the series. They were the first team to win a postseason game by a seven-goal margin since the Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 10-3 in Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Correspondent Eric Gilmore reports that the Sharks know it won't be as easy in Game 5. The Oilers allowed four power-play goals in Game 4 and realize playing undisciplined isn't a recipe for success this time of year, according to staff writer Tim Campbell.
Ducks first into second round
The Anaheim Ducks became the first team to advance to the Western Conference Second Round when they completed a sweep of the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. The St. Louis Blues had a chance to sweep the Minnesota Wild, but lost at home. The Ottawa Senators won for the second straight game at the Boston Bruins to take a 3-1 series lead and the Washington Capitals avoided falling into a 3-1 hole with a win at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here's a look at what happened on Wednesday:
Washington Capitals 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 -- The Capitals scored four goals in the first period and hung on to even their Eastern Conference First Round series at 2-2. It was the first time in this series a game was decided in regulation.
Ottawa Senators 1, Boston Bruins 0 -- Bobby Ryan, who won Game 3 in overtime, scored the only goal in Game 4 to move Ottawa one win from the second round. Craig Anderson made 22 saves for the shutout.
Video: Anderson's shutout leads Senators to Game 4 victory
Minnesota Wild 2, St. Louis Blues 0 -- The Wild scored more than one goal in a game for the first time in the series to stay alive. Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal scored for Minnesota.
Ducks 3, Flames 1 -- On coach Randy Carlyle's 61st birthday, the Ducks scored twice in the first period and held on to finish off Calgary. The Ducks will wait to the play the winner of the San Jose Sharks-Edmonton Oilers series, which will go at least until a Game 6 on Saturday.
What we learned on Day 8 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Wear is showing for Bruins
The Bruins have been barely surviving on defense, given their loss of a defenseman in game after game, but that has had even more dire repercussions. Notably, the extra minutes given to Zdeno Chara. The 40-year-old has played 25:32, 30:09 (a season high), 29:07 and 24:09 in Boston's four games against the Senators.
Goals at premium in Boston
After two games where the Bruins and Senators combined to score 14 goals in back-to-back 4-3 overtime wins by Ottawa, impressive goaltending dominated in Game 4. As Ryan said, "Tonight was one of those games you just felt like there was going to be one goal, all night long." He was right, and that was to the credit of Anderson and Tuukka Rask, each of whom was stellar.
Capitals still have trouble protecting leads
After blowing leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 3 on Monday, the Capitals jumped out to a 4-1 lead after one period in Game 4 on Wednesday. But they had to survive a frantic third period before holding on for a 5-4 victory to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2. The Capitals were outshot 19-3 and the shot attempts were 37-8 for the Maple Leafs in the third period. The Capitals know that's one area they'll need to clean up if they're going to survive this series and move on.
Flaws in Maple Leafs defense starting to show
After playing very well in their own end for much of the first three games, the Maple Leafs struggled getting the puck out in a first period when they were outscored 4-1 and outshot 15-6. The Capitals were able to get the puck in deep and forced the Maple Leafs into numerous turnovers and coverage breakdowns. To the Maple Leafs' credit, they pushed back in the third period and outshot the Capitals 19-3. But a pivotal turnover by defenseman Connor Carrick led to T.J. Oshie's goal 59 seconds after Auston Matthews had pulled Toronto within 4-3. Oshie's goal turned out to be the game-winner.
Video: Oshie, Wilson lead Caps to 5-4 Game 4 win vs. Leafs
Wild not dead yet
The Wild finally got a lead; once they did, they turned the Blues' own game on them by playing structured defensive hockey. After Hanzal gave Minnesota a two-goal lead, the Wild stayed true to form by skating five players on the backcheck at all times and not giving the Blues any odd-man rushes.
Dubnyk needs goals
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has allowed seven goals in four games, but has one win to show for it. He got some help Wednesday when Minnesota scored more than one goal in a game for the first time in the series. That was enough for Dubnyk, who was sharp and made the necessary saves during a second-period push by the Blues. Dubnyk was fighting through traffic, seeing shots and smothering pucks when the Blues finally started getting them to the net.
Gibson rewards Carlyle's faith
In the evolution of every young goaltender, one of the key factors is how he bounces back from a tough outing. The Ducks got a positive response from John Gibson, who was pulled in Game 3 after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Carlyle showed faith in bringing back Gibson for Game 4 and was rewarded with a 36-save performance.
Déjà vu all over again for Flames
One year after finishing the 2015-16 season with uncertainty in goal, the Flames were swept in the first round and are dealing with fresh questions at that still-critical position. Goaltenders Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson can become unrestricted free agents on July 1, and though they were a vast improvement over the season before, their good patches of play were punctuated by moments of inconsistency.