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Playoff Buzz: Round 2 starts in East

Penguins visit Capitals, Senators host Rangers in series openers

NHL.com @NHL

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the 2016-17 postseason. The playoffs resume today with two games. NHL.com writers covering the playoffs will be checking in throughout the day to give you latest news. Here is the playoff news for Thursday:

 

6:26 p.m.
Bieksa doubtful for Game 2

The Anaheim Ducks could be without veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Bieksa played 7:03 before sustaining a lower-body injury in the first period of Anaheim's 5-3 loss to the Oilers in Game 1. He's considered doubtful for Game 2, but Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said there could be a further update on Bieksa's status Friday.

Despite winning Game 1, the Oilers hope to do a better job containing Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. He had two points (one goal, one assist) and leads Anaheim in playoff goals (four) and points (seven) through five games. "Sometimes, he's just a beast," said linemate Nick Ritchie.

The Oilers have not gotten a game-winning goal from a top-six forward in the playoffs, but it has hardly hurt them. Edmonton defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the first round and rallied to win Game 1 in Anaheim. 

 

4:40 p.m.
Predators lose Fiala for rest of playoffs

The Nashville Predators have a 1-0 lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the St. Louis Blues, but were dealt a significant blow in their 4-3 win in Game 1 on Wednesday.

Predators rookie forward Kevin Fiala had surgery on the fractured femur he sustained when he crashed into the end boards feet-first early in the second period. Fiala had earned himself an important role for the Predators, playing top-six minutes and on the power play, so his loss will not be easy to overcome. Nashville does have a proven Stanley Cup Playoff producer in Colin Wilson, who's ready to fill in for the injured Fiala, as correspondent Robby Stanley explains.

The Game 1 win was Nashville's fifth in as many playoff games. They're playing the way many expected them to play prior to the start of the season. That initial assessment was based on Nashville's potent offensive attack, boosted by the arrival of high-octane defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens. But the Predators' commitment at the other end of the ice has made a bigger difference in the playoffs.

The Blues now need to bounce back quickly in Game 2 if they want to avoid a 2-0 series deficit. What really hurt St. Louis in Game 1 was two power-play goals by the Predators. Penalty killing is an area the Blues have excelled in under coach Mike Yeo, but their focus Thursday was avoiding those situations altogether.

 

12:54 p.m.
Kunitz likely back for Penguins

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins each held optional morning skates in advance of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Verizon Center on Thursday (7:30 ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

The Capitals will stick with the same lineup from their 2-1 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6 of the first round Sunday. Defenseman Karl Alzner is progressing but will miss his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury. Staff writer Tom Gulitti has the latest on Alzner's recovery and what it's been like for him to watch games after going nearly seven years without missing one.

For the Penguins, it appears left wing Chris Kunitz will play for the first time since March 31 after recovering from a lower-body injury. Kunitz did not stay on the ice with Pittsburgh's extras at the end of their morning skate, an indication he is going to play.

Left wing Carl Hagelin (lower body) took limited contact at the morning skate and won't play in Game 1, but is moving closer to returning. Hagelin hasn't played since March 10.

Playing on the "HBK Line" with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel last postseason, Hagelin was a huge part of the Penguins' six-game series win against the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round. The Penguins, for now, are moving on with a new third line of Scott Wilson, Bonino and Conor Sheary.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray remains out with a lower-body injury, so Marc-Andre Fleury will start against Braden Holtby of the Capitals. Here are the 5 keys to Game 1.

 

12:47 p.m.
Senators eager to get going

If one thing was clear at the Ottawa Senators' morning skate Thursday, it was that they were ready for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Ottawa's focus will be to contain the speed of the Rangers, using its own speed to counteract one of the things the Rangers do best. After not seeing nearly as much speed against the Boston Bruins in the first round, the Senators are trusting their 1-3-1 defensive structure.

The Senators are mostly set with their lineup, with defenseman Ben Harpur set to play again in place of Mark Borowiecki (lower body). Forward Tom Pyatt (upper body) will be a game-time decision. Here are the 5 keys to Game 1.

In the run-up to the game, NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen talked to Brian Leetch about another defenseman who is making a difference for the Rangers in a breakthrough rookie season: Brady Skjei.

 

12:10 p.m.
Round 2 gets underway in East

With the series openers in the Western Conference in the books, the two Eastern Conference Second Round series start in Ottawa and Washington on Thursday.

Here's a quick look at the matchups:

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports) -- The Rangers and Senators each won in six games in the first round; the Senators defeated the Boston Bruins, with three wins coming in overtime, and the Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens.

As NHL.com correspondent Chris Stevenson notes, forward Derick Brassard, who was traded from the Rangers to the Senators on July 18, led Ottawa with eight points (two goals, six assists) and forward Bobby Ryan had seven points (four goals, three assists).

Brassard was traded for forward Mika Zibanejad, who led New York with four points (one goal, three assists), including an overtime goal in Game 5. Forward Mats Zuccarello had three goals for the Rangers, who have been to the conference final in three of the past five seasons. The Senators last made the conference final in 2007, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

One key, as correspondent Kevin Woodley notes, will be goaltending: Craig Anderson of the Senators had a 1.94 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in the first round; Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers had a 1.70 GAA and .947 save percentage.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2) -- The Penguins and Capitals each won two games in the season series but one of the Penguins' wins came in overtime and the other in a shootout. Forward Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals led all skaters with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) and Evgeni Malkin scored five goals for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the first round, getting 11 points (two goals, nine assists) from Malkin and seven points (two goals, five assists) from Sidney Crosby. Jake Guentzel had five goals and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 181 of 194 shots (.933 save percentage). As correspondent Wes Crosby writes, Malkin may be one of the NHL's elite players, but he's OK with avoiding the spotlight that will shine on Crosby and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

The Capitals defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games, getting three goals each from T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Tom Wilson and Ovechkin. Braden Holtby allowed 16 goals on 213 shots. It's the second straight season the teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Penguins winning in six games in the second round in 2016, a loss that NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti reports the Capitals haven't forgotten.

The Penguins have won eight of nine playoff series against the Capitals, who haven't been to the conference final since 1998.

 

9:45 a.m.

The Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers started the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with road wins in their Western Conference Second Round series.

The Predators took an early lead, survived a third-period rally by the St. Louis Blues and then got a lucky bounce to win Game 1 at Scottrade Center.

The Oilers scored four goals in the third period to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 at Honda Center.

Here's a look at what happened Wednesday:

 

Edmonton Oilers 5, Anaheim Ducks 3

Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson, who had four goals in 76 regular-season games, scored two in the third period, including the game-winner with 4:40 remaining.

 

Nashville Predators 4, St. Louis Blues 3

The Predators led 3-1 entering the third period, but the Blues got goals from Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka to tie the game midway through the third. But a fluky bounce led to Nashville forward Vernon Fiddler pushing the puck under Blues goalie Jake Allen for his first playoff goal for the Predators in 10 years.

Here are some things we learned on Day 16 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

 

Ducks can't kill enough

Anaheim's penalty-killing was a concern in the first round against the Calgary Flames, so much so that Ducks coach Randy Carlyle called it porous after the Flames went 6-for-16 in his team's four-game sweep. It was an even bigger issue in Game 1 against the Oilers, who went 2-for-5 with the man advantage; center Mark Letestu scored twice. To be fair, it was the first game back for Anaheim's No. 1 defenseman Cam Fowler, who played a team-high 4:20 on the penalty kill after missing the first round because of a knee injury. The Ducks will need a more cohesive effort going forward.

Oilers won't be pushed around

The Oilers showed they will not be intimidated by strong opponents or bad breaks. It was one of Edmonton's best qualities during the Western Conference First Round against the San Jose Sharks, and it continued against the Ducks. The Oilers were under pressure for stretches in Game 1, and while they bent, they never crumbled. That included a strong push by the Ducks early in the third period; the Oilers' response was to score two goals to take a 3-1 lead. After the Ducks surged to tie the game 3-3, the Oilers stayed calm and came up with Larsson's game-winning goal.

Video: Larsson's two goals lift Oilers to 5-3 win in Game 1

Discipline is vital for Blues

The Blues were the top penalty-killing team in the NHL from the time coach Mike Yeo took over from Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 to the end of the regular season, and they allowed three power-play goals on 18 attempts in the first round against the Minnesota Wild. But they are not facing the Wild anymore.

The Predators scored two power-play goals at opportune moments, and even when they didn't score, penalties by the Blues in the second period allowed Nashville to build momentum and take control of the game.

Jake Allen is human

Blues goaltender Jake Allen had a stellar first-round series against the Wild, finishing with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage, but he allowed four goals on 32 shots Wednesday and took the blame for the loss because of his missed poke check on the winning goal by Vernon Fiddler.

That's overdoing it, because Allen was not the reason the Blues lost. But he needs to show in Game 2 that he can get back to his dominant self or else this might become a more serious issue as the series moves along.

Subban makes his mark

Predators defenseman P.K. Subban had a relatively quiet first round, which is what makes Nashville's four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks that much more impressive. If Game 1 against St. Louis was any indication, Subban appears to have found his game. He scored a goal, had two assists and was a force all night, providing the Predators with the kind of multifaceted attack from the blue line that they are built to provide -- and that should give Blues coach Mike Yeo headaches on how to counter and contain it.

New blood makes impact for Predators

Forwards Vernon Fiddler and Cody McLeod did not play in Nashville's first-round sweep of the Blackhawks. But Fiddler came up big with the winning goal in the third period after the Blues had erased a two-goal deficit.

Forward Colin Wilson missed the first round with an injury, returned in Game 1 and scored the opening goal, turning once again into Playoff Colin Wilson. He has 11 goals and eight assists in his past 21 postseason games.

The Predators looked pretty unbeatable in the first round, but these new additions might make them even more so.

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