With their 4-1 series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins will get to experience their longest stretch of “time off” since the bye week after the All-Star Game. (Really, this “time off” will surely include practice and lots of tape-watching, but without any games on the schedule for upwards of a week, it’ll be plenty of time for the Penguins to rest up before the next playoff series.) With that in mind, we’ve got some time to catch up on the goings-on around the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s get caught up to speed together.
The most relevant series for the Penguins and their fans is, of course, the Washington/Toronto series. Game 6 is Sunday and, if necessary, Game 7 is Tuesday. The first round can go as long as Wednesday, so I would anticipate Game 1 for the Penguins to be Thursday or Friday. If Washington wins the series, Pittsburgh goes to #1 seed Washington; if Toronto wins, Pittsburgh hosts the #2 wild-card Maple Leafs (and also locks into home-ice advantage throughout the remainder of the playoffs).
As the 3-2 series would indicate, this has been a close series, much closer than most prognosticators had thought. Washington, after all, is the President’s Trophy winner for the second year in a row, and Toronto is young, inexperienced, and are in the playoffs for just the second time since 2005. But up until Game 4, these two teams were completely deadlocked: in games won (2), goals scored (14), and just three shots against differentiated Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.
With Washington winning Game 5 in 1OT 3-2, Game 6 will head to Toronto Sunday and Washington will have a chance to move on for a rematch of last year’s Conference Semifinal against the Penguins. It would be a surprise if this series goes to seven games, and the Toronto Maple Leafs ought to pat themselves on the back regardless of its outcome.
On the Atlantic side of the Eastern Conference bracket, the #2 seed Ottawa Senators are one game away from eliminating the #3 seed Boston Bruins, and the #1 wild-card New York Rangers are up 3-2 in the series on the #1 seed Montreal Canadiens.
Ottawa and Boston have also been locked in a close battle, with each game being decided by just a goal, but the Senators, lead by Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson, spent the last few weeks of the season pushing themselves into the playoffs and now they’re in position to advance to the second round for the first time since 2013. (They must be thrilled to not have to deal with the Penguins any time soon.) The Bruins however forced Game 6 tomorrow afternoon with a 3-2 win in 2OT last night, so there’s still much to be decided.
The Rangers are also in front of the Canadiens by just a win and one goal, but this has been a very good series for Henrik Lundqvist, who has seen 21 more shots than Carey Price and has allowed as many goals. They just broke a six-game home playoff losing streak, so it would make sense to turn it into a winning streak by taking Game 6 tonight and ending the series.
Over in the Western Conference, the Central Division bracket has been absolutely busted. The #1 seed Chicago Blackhawks were swept out of the playoffs by the #2 wild-card Nashville Predators, and the #2 seed Minnesota Wild are on the brink of being eliminated by the #3 seed St. Louis Blues with Game 5 in Minnesota tonight. Minnesota was down 3 games to 0, but Devan Dubnyk shut out and shut the door on the Blues in Game 4. If necessary, Game 6 is Monday and Game 7 is Wednesday.
The Pacific Division playoffs thus far makes the most sense right now, with the #1 seed Anaheim Ducks eliminating the #1 wild-card Calgary Flames, and the #2 seed Edmonton Oilers are ahead of the #3 seed San Jose Sharks with Game 6 this evening in San Jose and Game 7 if necessary on Monday in Edmonton.
As for the Penguins, we’ll all be looking out for news on Matt Murray, Carl Hagelin, and Chris Kunitz as we hope they’ll be rejoining the team sooner rather than later. Out of the three, Hagelin is likeliest to return to game action and he adds yet another winger with tenacity on both the fore-and-back-check, that can chip in on offense, and plays key minutes on the penalty kill. Murray’s return to health would generally indicate another goalie controversy, but with Flower’s success in the first round I would anticipate head coach Mike Sullivan sticking with Fleury until a change is necessitated. There’s also been no word on Murray’s progress, which is never a good sign. Kunitz would be another veteran depth addition should he return to play.
The AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs have also begun, with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins taking on the Providence Bruins. With Tristan Jarry backing up Marc-Andre Fleury, the WB/S goal belongs to Casey DeSmith, who shared with Jarry the Holmes Award, the AHL’s version of the Jennings Trophy which is awarded to the teammates with the fewest combined goals per game.
Finally, Daniel Sprong and the Charlottetown Islanders are headed for the QMJHL President Cup semi-final; Sprong is currently 7th in the QMJHL playoffs in scoring.